Maintaining winter gardens


Special to Atmore News

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Cold winter days often keep many gardeners indoors. However, there is still much to do during the winter. Lucy Edwards, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, says there is maintenance, evaluations and pruning for winter gardens.


Maintaining and pruning gardens is an important step to having success year-round. Edwards offers the following recommendations for winter garden care:

* Prune winter-damaged limbs from storms or ice.

* Give house plants a bath in lukewarm water to remove dust.

* Soil test lawns and add limestone as recommended.

* Apply preemergent herbicides if not used in September or if spring weeds were a concern the year before.

In terms of planting, the winter is the best time to select and plant roses from a garden center. The Alabama Extension publication Growing Roses offers information on growing a variety of rose cultivars.

January and February are also an ideal time to set out fruit trees. Again, variety selection is key to ensure proper growth and development.

“A few of my favorite fruit trees that grow well across Alabama are blueberries, figs and Asian pears,” Edwards said.

Pruning perennials

When pruning in the winter, first remove all dead, diseased and damaged limbs. Next, consider the type of plant and the overall shape desired.

“Pruning promotes a plant to grow,” she said. “The last thing you want to do is shear a plant to the desired height only to have it grow aggressively in the spring.”

This will result in having to reprune the plant frequently.

Covering for frost

Unpredictable Alabama weather can quickly go from sunny and 75 degrees F to an ice storm. In this case, covering plants is the best defense against frost.

“Cover all tender vegetable plants – particularly lettuce – in the chance of a frost,” Edwards said. “When there is a prediction for freezing temperatures for several hours, cover all herbaceous plants with tender green stems.”

In late winter, it is especially important to cover herbaceous plants when buds are swelling for spring.

“Bigleaf hydrangeas – or Hydrangea macrophylla – are a classic example of a plant that may have its blooms damaged by a late frost or freeze,” she said.

Simply place potted plants indoors or in a garage.

A tasty frost bite

While most crops will need to be covered in case of frost, some fall crops taste better after a light frost. These include broccoli, cabbage, Swiss chard and turnips. Many of these crops can even survive temperatures below freezing. These include broccoli, spinach, garlic, leeks, kohlrabi, kale, turnips and cabbage.


Not only is maintaining the garden important, but the winter is a perfect time to evaluate the garden from summer and fall. If notes were not taken prior, think back over the previous year. Edwards said to try to answer questions like

* What was grown?

* How well did it produce?

* Were there diseases or insects noticed on the plants?

* Can the spring garden be planned by rotating vegetable families from the previous year?

* Is there an area that can be fallow to grow a cover crop in the upcoming spring?

More information

Utilizing the winter to prepare for the upcoming growing season will help to ensure a successful garden year-round. For more information about gardening tips, visit the Alabama Extension website at

Mary Leigh Oliver is an agent with Alabama Cooperative Extension System.