Blistery winds chinooks, deep snow – the vagaries of zone 3 winter gardening may seem bleak. For months, with the ground frozen, there is little prospect of working outside. While in other zones, the march toward winter is gradual, here it often comes abruptly. Other may still be able to harvest well into November but here, it is seldom the case. From late August onward, frost threatens and it is not uncommon to have snowfall in September. By Halloween temperatures often dip so low for such a prolonged period, that perennials begin to sleep, joining their long-gone annual cousins. That does not mean however, that there is nothing to do. Gardening is, after all, a year-round activity, even here. Despite being indoors, the dreams and possibilities of next year linger. Tasks, left undone in the excitement of summer, become more pressing. Plans are laid, lessons grasped and even laggards may start seeds that need the cold to germinate.
Furthermore, there is a certain beauty that winter brings. It is not the exuberance of spring, nor the kaleidoscopic colour of summer, nor the thrill of fall harvest but something that teeters between monochromatic and stark. There are days of pure white – frost clinging to trees, snow laden ground and not a blue sky in sight. There are days when the sky shines so blue it is an almost shocking contrast to the snow.
Winter, like no other season demands something extraordinary of the gardener. It is not toil, nor care, nor nourishing. It is purely within and it is acceptance. Yes, as sure as day follows night, spring will follow winter, but the season’s near total obliteration, its putrefaction, its decay makes spring ever more a miracle. Winter is expectant, and the gardener hopeful.
5 GARDENING TASKS FOR WINTER
We don’t often think of winter as a time for gardening but there are still some tasks that can span these cold months and give you a head start on spring.
1/ Plan for Spring
Procure catalogues to review new varieties, plan your beds and sketch out a plan. Lay down a layer of compost on your garden to lock in moisture and improve soil.
2/ Review and Learn
Look at your previous successes and plants that did not thrive. Research what you can do to improve conditions and any amendments you may need.
3/Clean and Repair
Rub tools with alcohol, dry and then cure with wax or oil. Replace broken handles. Sharpen dull edges. Check greenhouses, raised beds, and planters as well for cracks.
4/ Cold Stratify
Plant wildflower seeds in ground (or a plastic bag with coconut coir) where they can lay dormant over winter and flower in spring. Or mimic this process in your refrigerator for 6-8 weeks.
5/ Secure Tenders
Store corms and rhizomes in breathable containers in a cool dark place. Plant bulbs that need cold temperatures. Store or preserve fruit and vegetables.
GREAT TOOLS FOR NEXT SPRING
Garant Pro Series 4″ (10.2 cm) trenching shovel, $34.98; garant.com
FiskarsTiller (40” Steel), $42.99; fiskars.ca
Garant Post Hole Digger, $79.99; garant.com
Fiskars Big Grip Multi-purpose Planting Tool, $12.99; fiskars.ca
This original gardening article first appeared in the Winter 2021/22 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.