Keep the garden going this winter with these tips

This is a great time to clean the tools before spring. Diana C. Kirby for American-Statesman

Central Texas, with its yo-yolike erratic weather, rarely has a serious winter. I mean a Buffalo, N.Y.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Denver, Colo., kind of winter – frozen solid and miserably cold. While northern gardeners are enjoying their hot chocolate by the fire and perusing the seasonal flood of garden catalogs, we’re still pruning and digging.

You’ll get a head start on spring if you check these chores off your garden to-do list.

Clean tools: Oil tools to extend their life. Fill container with sand lightly moistened with linseed oil, or motor oil. Push your tools in and out and clean with a rag, removing the sand. Sticky sap or resin will come off with a little paint thinner. For rust, you can disassemble your tools and use sandpaper or steel wool to clean them. After cleaning, use a sharpening stone or a file to sharpen the blade.

Prune: If your perennials died back to sticks in the recent freeze and snow, you can cut them back to a few inches above ground. Plants affected in my garden include lantana, thryallis, forsythia sage, pride of Barbados and variegated ginger.

Water: Don’t forget to water periodically while the plant is dormant through winter. They aren’t dead; their roots are still growing underground. You won’t need to water as frequently, but don’t stop entirely.

Compost: Improve your soil by spreading a layer of compost on any exposed soil. It will slowly add nutrients to your soil over the winter so it’s ready for planting time in spring.

Help wildlife: We know that hummingbirds don’t hang around for the winter, but other birds and small animals do. In winter, food and water become scarce for all our furry and feathered wildlife friends. For wildlife to thrive, animals also need shelter from winter’s cold and rain. Resist the urge to cut back grasses and other dense plants with seeds that will provide shelter and food. Trees, shrubs, flowers, ground covers and vines can all provide protection.

Clean pots: Old pots can contain salt deposits or diseases from last season’s plants. Remove dirt with a scrub brush. If you can, submerge the pots in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. If the pots are too big for that, pour the water all around them. Rinse well and dry in the sun.

Start a creative project: During winter downtime, consider taking on a garden project for your landscape. Water features provide a delightful element to the garden. Stock tanks used as water gardens and planters are all the rage right now, and they are surprisingly easy to create. You can create a focal point planter by drilling many holes in the bottom of the tank with a large drill bit to ensure adequate drainage. Or you can turn your stock tank into a beautiful and soothing water feature.

In their book, “Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers,” Annette Goliti Gutierrez and Mary Gray provide easy step-by-step instructions. Owners of Potted, a Los Angeles outdoor lifestyle brand and store, they sell unique outdoor products to inspire their customers. After successfully building many of their products on-site, they wrote this book to inspire DIY gardeners and homeowners everywhere to craft their own beautiful planters.

“We wanted to create projects that are gorgeous, accessible and affordable,” said Gutierrez. “Water attracts butterflies, birds and dragonflies to the garden, and dappled sun adds sparkle. A water feature makes a big impact on the overall design of an outdoor living space.”

First, find a stock tank the right size for your garden. They are available at most feed and supply stores in a variety of sizes. I painted mine because I wanted it to have a more natural color. If you like silver, that saves you one step. To extend the life of your water feature, lightly sand it before you paint. If you want a pattern or only want to paint part of the tank, use painters’ tape and newspaper to mask those areas, or tape on a stencil before you paint. Spray-paint lightly in a well-ventilated area. If you spray too much at once, you’ll have drip lines, so it’s better to add a few coats and allow it to dry in between coats.

For instructions on a wide variety of creative container projects that can transform your landscape, Gutierrez and Gray’s book is available in bookstores and on amazon.com.


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