The Winter Garden

Linda Nowak-Carlson, Floral Buyer

You’ve probably noticed that most of your plants are getting ready for a long winter’s rest. Leaves are falling and perennial foliage is dying back. Our community of wildlife is searching for the seeds and berries in your garden, which are also things you can use to decorate your home for the holidays. Those dried corn stalks and ornamental grass seed heads are great for decorating your porch or entry way. Your winter squash and pumpkins, of course, also add wonderful color, and you can eat them after the holidays. Did you know that our native toyon is also called California Christmas Berry because the berries turn red at just the right time? Do you need to lop off the limbs of a few conifers to be more firesafe? You can use those trimmings to make door swags or wreaths.

If you have winter crops and flowers growing, try to visit them often to harvest and check for aphids and little green worms. A strong spray of water usually knocks the aphids off, and dropping the worms in soapy water will stop them from becoming mature white moths. Lettuce is not extremely cold-hardy in our area, so it may need to be covered with a frost blanket on cold nights. If you use plastic, be sure it’s not in contact with your plants.
If you haven’t done so already, you don’t have to prune all your perennials and grasses unless you like a neat, tidy garden. Besides providing some winter food for wildlife, you will also be adding protection and nutrition to the soil. A light cover of plant material over the soil will help prevent rain and wind erosion. It will also provide food for your soil microbes, and frost protection for perennial crowns that can be pruned off when you see new growth begin to emerge in early spring.

An exception to this would be if you have disease or insects on the leaves. In that case you would want to rake up or prune them as soon as they’re dormant. It would be a good idea NOT to add this material to your compost pile. If you’re a lazy composter like I am, the pile won’t get hot enough to kill these organisms.

The ideal time for fall planting is over, but if you still have bulbs or garlic, it’s best to get them in before they dry out or rot. If you plant in the winter, your plants won’t put out much root growth. The way I look at it, though, a plant in the ground will have more insulation against the cold, and the soil will act as a water reservoir so you’ll need to do less hand-watering.

As Christmas approaches, you may be looking for a plant gift for your gardening friends. At BriarPatch we’ll have bulbs that have already been forced and ready to bloom, as well as kits to force your own bulbs. We’ll also have small living conifers—some already decorated—and the traditional Zygo cactus that blooms around Christmas time, not to mention poinsettias in a variety of colors.

With the holidays over, winter is the perfect time to plan your garden for next season. If you have more than one bed, remember to rotate what you plant in them. If you plant the same veggie in the same bed every year, it’ll be more prone to disease and the insects that prefer that plant. Also, different plants use up different nutrients in the soil, so repeated growth of the same plant will deplete those nutrients.

When making a list of the vegetables and flowers you want to grow next year, decide if you want to grow your own starts from seed, or buy them already started. We will have a good supply of seed for late winter as well as summer growing. In February, we plan to have locally-grown starts for broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and many greens. Then we’ll transition into the summer veggies around April. We also try to carry a good selection of California native plants year-round.

We primarily rely upon six local growers who do an amazing job. We feel quite privileged to be working with Fresh Starts Nursery, and K & F Tomatoes in Nevada City; Sweet Roots Nursery, and Green Blessings Nursery in Grass Valley; Grizzly Hill Nursery on The Ridge; and Enlightened Earth in Penn Valley.

Since it’s still too early to do much gardening outside, you can focus on the inside of your house. In addition to the multitude of bouquets available around Valentine’s Day (which will arrive before you know it), we’ll also have many blooming potted plants. These can last a season or a lifetime. Enjoy your time in the garden!

Want more detailed information about any of these topics? I can be reached at

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