winter bees

“Then came old January wrappéd well
In many weeds to keep the cold away.
Yet did he quake and quiver like to quell
And Blewe his nayles to warm them if he may;

– Edmund Spenser
– From “Faerie Queen”



For these days of January…and perhaps for a further few in February, let’s not think about what we should be doing out there, but instead focus more on what we should NOT, under any circumstance, think of doing. Sometimes you can do more damage doing than not doing. And not doing sounds so good when a high this month will do well to break 20F. Spend your garden time dreaming instead.


Outside Tasks:

  • DON’T beat the ice off of the shrubs and trees in your yard that are currently posing as popsicle sticks. Brittle leaves and branches will break. Dry snow can be shaken off.
  • DON’T use a sunny day for evil – pruning the branches (and buds) of spring flowering shrubs like quince, lilac, rhododendron, daphne, forsythia, deutzia, and spirea. Wait until after they have bloomed or you will lose your spring bloom.
  • DON’T fool around with soupy, freeze/thawed soil. You will ruin the soil structure, tick off the worms and generally do terrible things out there. Even peas will rot in that kind of mess – leave it alone.
  • DON’T cut back the stalks of last year’s perennials. If you’ve left them this long you might as well benefit from the physical reminder of where they are come spring. The birds will benefit from the seeds too.
  • DON’T forget to look outside and appreciate the stark beauty of winter. Rocky hillsides are exposed, fields are frosty, bark is colorful and textured, bird life is abundant. The world is just a different kind of beautiful.

Inside Tasks:

  • DON’T start clearing out refugees. If you took a division from a friend back in the fall and brought it inside to coddle then forgot about it, you may be seeing new growth now. Whether or not you’ve got room for something ungainly that belongs in the garden, you are now stuck with it. DON’T under any circumstances put it outside with the overwintering perennials or the shock will kill it.       Even a cold garage may be too cold.       Spring has come for your little division. It’ll be spring before you can off -load it.
  • DON’T excessively water plants overwintering in cold barns and garages, particularly succulents. Cold wet soil is deadly. Better too dry than to die.
  • DON’T succumb to windowsill grow kits.  Windowsills will never provide enough light to grow strong seedlings. Unless of course you have genuine, large, true south facing windows. Then you’ll have to provide them with sunglasses.
  • This one is a bit of a cheat on the “DON’T” theme, but I’m claiming artistic license because it’s very important: DON’T ignore scale, mealy bug and aphids on your houseplants, hoping it will get better.  It won’t.  Horticultural oil (neem) is one of your best defenses – especially against scale.