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FAQs for Winter Gardening

Q.

What are some trees and shrubs with branches suitable for forcing indoors in the winter?

Cut the branches of forsythia, spirea, spicebush, quince, pussywillow and other early blooming trees and shrubs for forcing indoors. If you can keep them in a cool place and change the water at least once a week they will last longer and you will be rewarded with beautiful blooms for a few weeks. Try spacing your cuttings at two-week intervals so you will achieve a continual succession of flowering, thereby extending the indoor display well into late winter.

Q.

What are your suggestions for keeping houseplants healthy during the winter?

Place indoor plants in an area where they receive the maximum amount of light, but in some cases direct sun may be harmful. Some protection, such as a thin curtain or special sunshades, may be necessary, although winter sun is weak and rarely posses a significant danger of sunburn. Turn your houseplants regularly to keep them from becoming lopsided and gently pinch them to keep them shapely.

Group plants together to increase the humidity level during the dry winter months. Potted plants can be placed on a shallow tray filled with pebbles that are kept moist to increase humidity. Although it is very helpful to increase the humidity, do not let the pots sit in water. Keep the water level below the top of the pebbles. Most plants want to dry out and then be watered thoroughly. Be sure to have adequate drainage such as perlite or sand in the potting soil mix.

Like selecting a plant for your outdoor space, there is no substitute for choosing the right indoor plant for a specific growing spot in your home.

Q.

Do I need to apply a winter mulch to my landscape plants?

To reduce the effect of alternate frost heaving and thawing, apply a winter mulch after the soil freezes. When mulch is applied to frozen soil it will keep the soil consistently cold. Mulch will also help to retain soil moisture. The mulch layer should be 2 to 2 1/2 inches thick and can be composed of leaf compost, straw or other material.

Q.

What are the reasons for using an anti-desiccant on evergreen plants in the winter?

Evergreen plants, both narrow and broad leaf, continue to lose moisture through their leaves in winter. If the soil is frozen, ground moisture is not available to plant roots and they cannot absorb what is lost through the leaves. The foliage becomes dry and brown and may drop. Applying anti-desiccant coats the leaves and reduces transpiration. Usually two applications per season are necessary for protection, one in December and the other in February. Wrapping evergreens with burlap or canvas is also helpful to reduce desiccation from sun and wind. Leave the top of the wrapping open to allow sunlight to penetrate.

Q.

Why do mice and rabbits cause damage to landscape plants in winter and how can this be prevented?

During a period of extended snow cover, when their usual food sources are blanketed and therefore unavailable, these creatures seek out alternatives such as the bark of trees and shrubs. When partial girdling (cutting through the bark in a belt-like pattern) occurs due to this nibbling, insects and pathogens can gain easy access and weaken plants. If trunks and stems become completely girdled, the plants will die because water and nutrients no longer have a pathway from root to leaves. In order to prevent this kind of injury, wrap the trunks and stems of susceptible plants with plastic covers or hardware cloths. Alternatively, rodent repellents can be sprayed onto the trunks and stems. Be sure to reapply in midwinter, during a time of warm temperatures.

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