By Marty Ross
Winter changes everything. With the first big snowfall, Midwestern gardens transform into dramatic black-and-white sketches. Trees and shrubs, with lines of snow along their limbs and twigs, appear to be etched on a wintry sky.
If some of this newfound snow needs to be shoveled, try to avoid dumping any on shrubs. Perennial plants and ground covers can safely bear the weight of snow cleared from walks, but a heavy layer of snow can cause woody twigs to snap.
Snow puts evergreen shrubs into sharp relief and reminds you how important they are to your plantings’ structure. Garden furniture and concrete planters that stay outside for winter suddenly look portly and formal. Coneflower and sedum seed heads sport jaunty white caps and seem to dance in the snow on their tall stems.
If fall is dry, be sure to water evergreens, which are particularly susceptible to desiccating winter winds. Before winter arrives, store your garden tools out of the weather. Disconnect hoses from their spigots and drain them. Coil them neatly and hang the hoses in a frost-free basement or garage, if possible. More tips on preparing the garden for winter.
For Midwestern gardeners, winter is the season of lists. Bundle up and take a walk around your garden. Be sure to study the views of your garden from indoors too. There’s less greenery and color to distract you, and you may decide you need to add evergreen shrubs, hollies or winter-blooming witch hazels to your planting list for next year.
Keep your fingers green through winter with some simple indoor gardening projects. Great big amaryllis (Hippeastrum) flowers are easy and satisfying to grow. One large bulb in a flowerpot produces one or two tall flower stems, each with a spectacular display of four big, long-lasting trumpet-shape flowers.
Paperwhite narcissus also blooms indoors in the dead of winter. When you buy them, the crinkly brown bulbs often have shoots showing at the tops, so there can’t be any question about which end is up. Plant them in a small bowl with a good layer of gravel on the bottom, nestling the bulbs shoulder-to-shoulder. Fill the bowl with gravel, almost covering the bulbs, then add just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Set the planter indoors near a window but out of direct sunlight. If you plant paperwhite bulbs by Halloween, you should have a show of fragrant white flowers for the Thanksgiving table. More on forcing bulbs.
In the kitchen cultivate some sprouts. All you need is a one-quart Mason jar with a screen top (or cheesecloth cover) and some seeds for sprouting, which you can find on the seed racks at Lowe’s. Follow the directions on the seed packet. It takes only a few days to grow a crop of radishes, arugula, kale, cress or bean sprouts. They’re delicious in salads, sprinkled on soups, and in sandwiches.
It may be winter, but you’ll find that a jarful of sprouts, a few pretty bulb flowers and a couple of handsome houseplants can help get you through the cold weather.