Gardening begins in January

Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream. – Josephine Nuese. This quote, which I first saw on a Hudson Valley Seed Library Facebook post, speaks to me. Like other gardeners in northern regions, gardening in my Zone 6b south-central Connecticut region begins in January.

Actually, for me, gardening never ends. Though I let my gardening brain rest a bit through the end-of-year holidays, ideas and designs for the upcoming year are never buried so deeply that they are suspended until spring. Serious review of the frozen landscape commences when dawn breaks on the New Year.

As I peruse the views from inside our home, I note which outdoor features become highlights in the winter landscape. The less favorable go onto a needs attention list, later prioritized as higher- and lower-level projects for the upcoming months. Views of neighboring property always become a high priority on this list; I continuously plan plantings to increase our winter privacy.

As viewed from the front windows, the house nearest to ours is somewhat blocked by existing native shrubs and trees plus those we’ve added over the years. Two existing mountain laurels are fenced to prevent deer browsing. Both beech trees – the forward one plus the one partially blocking the nearest house – are existing native plantings we’ve encouraged to grow. The use of existing native trees and shrubs makes sense for environmental, design, and budgetary reasons in that native plantings suite native insects, birds and soils, native trees and shrubs help match the gardens and property to surrounding woodlands, and existing natives are free – they are perfect ‘right plant, right place’ plantings.

To compliment the existing natives we’ve added a pink dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), a juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’) hidden by the larger laurel in this photo, and two very small American holly (Ilex opaca) transplants (position noted by blue arrows but not view-able in the photo) that I hope will eventually grow into stately evergreen trees.

Mountain laurel circled in green, American holly locations noted by blue arrows, dogwood by red arrow, globe picea circled in blue, leucothoe circled in yellow, leatherleaf circled in orange, pieris circled in white, picea 'Sanders Blue' circled in pink

Mountain laurel circled in green, American holly locations noted by blue arrows, dogwood by red arrow, globe picea circled in blue, leucothoe circled in yellow, leatherleaf circled in orange, pieris circled in white, picea ‘Sanders Blue’ circled in pink

To bring more greenery into this winter view I’ve added a globe spruce (Picea pungens glauca globosa, circled in blue) that is still not sure it likes this setting, a leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum circled in orange), Leucothoe axillaris (circled in yellow), a Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ (circled in white) and, most recently, two slow-growing pyramidal spruce (Picea glauca ‘Sanders Blue’ circled in pink) to the mix.

A closer-up view from a slightly different angle better shows  the still small evergreens. Though leatherleaf viburnum and leucothoe carry deer-resistant claims, the deer browsing our yard browse both during winter months. But both plants bounce back pretty easily each spring, so I tend to leave them unprotected. Also, since the taller ornamental grasses have outlived their usefulness in this location, crowding many of the deciduous shrubs and trees, I plan to move them to a different location this spring.

One view of the front yard from inside.

One view of the front yard from inside.

As the native and new plantings continue to grow, this portion of the front will be amply ‘greened’ for winter viewing.

By contrast, the opposite side of the front yard view still lacks winter greenery. Because of the upward slope there is no need to block views of distant neighbors, but a few low-growing conifers or other evergreen foliage would compliment the existing beech trees and ground-level moss.

The view of the opposite side of the front yard from inside.

The view of the opposite side of the front yard from inside.

The main issue in this area is ledge running very close to the surface, which makes digging adequate planting holes difficult. Still, how and where to incorporate winter greenery to this side of the front yard is worth some winter pondering, and this is one of the best aspects of winter gardening.

…For gardening begins in January with the dream …







Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Joene Hendry

Finally … winter snow

Snow has been rare in my south-central Connecticut garden so far this winter so I more than welcome this morning’s measly three inch snowfall. Finally … winter snow has arrived.

At this time last year we already had good snow cover and I was checking animal tracks to see which creatures were active around the house and gardens. More animal track observations may be possible if the wind remains still and the snow cover doesn’t melt away due to one of the broad temperature swings that, so far, have highlighted our 2014-2015 winter.

But, this morning’s creature watching was all about birds. A junco perched for a photo atop the branch of a white lilac and, on the main trunk, a downy woodpecker seems to be listening for insect activity.

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Both await their turn at the nearby feeder, but the woodpecker’s actions capture more of my interest. This lilac was host to some sort of borer last year. I pruned out damaged trunks and branches, and dug out as much of the damaged root section as possible, then waited and watched for new insect holes in the woody branches. If woodpeckers remain interested in the trunk sections of this shrub I know to keep watching it closely for further borer damage.

In the meantime, activity at the feeder shows it’s time to refill the suet and thistle seed.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

They’ll get their wish later, when it’s time clear the walkways. For now, I’ll just continue to enjoy the view, and hope my woodpecker friends visit the lilac as a resting spot, rather than a place for food.


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Joene Hendry

Re-purpose your Christmas tree

If you decorate with a fresh-cut Christmas tree you also face the annual question of what to do with it after the holiday. Here are some ideas, updated from a January 2011 post, to help you re-purpose your Christmas tree, rather than casting it off as trash.

1. After dragging the tree outside, trim still-green branches off its trunk and use these to mulch dormant perennials. The branches from our tree become winter mulch for spring-blooming bulbs, while any evergreen boughs used in outdoor decorations – such as those in the photo below from 2011- help protect dormant perennials from frost heaving.


2. Turn your tree into an outdoor shelter for feathered friends.  It’s relatively easy to either lean the tree against a bird feeder pole, an outside deck railing, or some other vertical support near where birds feed during the winter. (If a snow pile is handy you can simply pound the base of the trunk into the pile and pack the snow tightly around the trunk. If it stays cold the tree can stand in this spot for quite a while.) Birds waiting their turn at the feeding station can find refuge in the tree, as can those seeking a roosting place while they ingest seed. To provide even more feeding stations hang stale bread, suet-filled pine cones, or orange or apple slices from the tree.


3. Use some cut evergreen boughs as the base layer for a new compost pile. The natural form of the branches allow for air circulation at the base of the pile, which encourages the compost process. Cut branches can also be placed atop a full compost bin or pile. They might discourage winter rummaging by local animal residents. In the spring these same branches could become the base of a new compost pile.

4. If you have wooded areas on your property, use your discarded tree as part of a small bird and animal shelter by mounding fallen branches over your no-longer-needed tree.

5. If you cut boughs off the trunk, the trunk can be used as a bird feeder or bird house post, or be cut into smaller sections for use in an outdoor fire pit.

But before turning your tree into a wildlife shelter or mulch mound, consider enlisting some help moving the tree to locations in your yard and gardens that might look better planted with an evergreen or conifer shrub. Granted, you might not want to try this with a large tree, but one that’s about 5 feet tall could act as a nice stand in for any future planting. While your helper holds the tree in place you can view it from different vantage points to get an idea of how a permanently planted tree /shrub will look.