Garden Design

Winter Planning for Successful Gardens

Ah winter, hibernation from pressing landscape and garden chores with the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the past year and prepare for the new one.

Planning for the coming gardening year involves brainstorming future projects and plant additions, as well as the physical preparation of the landscape. Garden catalogs are piling up and garden design books are open with multiple post-its marking ideal additions to your landscape. Dreams and goals lie ahead, so much for hibernation and reflection.

Winter months in our zone 7-8 climate are mild enough to accomplish garden projects without a lot of sweat.

Add Structure to the Garden
– Consider the addition of a deck on the south or west side of the house to take advantage of the warm winter sunshine.
– Design and build an arbor for protection from the harsh summer sun beating down on the patio.
– Stain or paint your fence or deck railing the same color of the house or trim color to tie together built components of the landscape.
– Create and build a garden path arbor then plant a climbing vine to serve as an inviting entry into the foyer garden or backyard retreat. Arbors and trellises help define outdoor rooms by creating walls, ceilings and doors for your garden rooms.

Garden Preparation
– Prepare new planting beds incorporating the composted leaf mulch
collected this past fall.
– It’s a great time to test soil for the addition of lime to balance the
– A complete fertilization of all landscape plants with a balanced slow release organic is best-accomplished late winter just before foliage begins to appear.
– It is also the best time of year for heavy pruning of most evergreen plants and non-spring bloomers.
– Final season cleanup before spring includes cutting back ornamental grasses.
– Beware of removing protective leaves and mulch from tender plants too early to avoid frost or freeze of new foliage.

Edible Gardens
– For a vegetable garden addition, lay out rows on a north-south axis for best sun exposure and air circulation.
– Raised beds several feet in height and four feet wide are optimum; the bed length is up to you.
– A perfect soil mix with perfect drainage and automatic irrigation will insure bountiful crops.
– Resources for edible gardening as well as many other landscape-related elements are available through NC Cooperative Extension.

Final Tasks
– Include an overhaul of the tool shed.
– Sharpen tools and remove rust with steel wool dipped in machine oil. Linseed oil can be applied to tool handles for longer life.
– Check sprayers and tools with moving parts to keep them working efficiently.
– Buy some new tools like a garden fork to deeply turn the soil or a trenching shovel for concise deep digging.

Successful gardens will reflect your winter planning and preparation for years of continued enjoyment.

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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