What Does a Gardener Do in the Winter?

what does a gardener do in the winter

For many gardeners, winter signifies a season of rest and planning after the growing season ends. As the weather cools down, some believe there isn’t much to do outdoors. However, there are still plenty of tasks and preparations vital for a healthy, bountiful spring garden.

Gardeners who want to get a head start on the next growing season will find themselves busy even during the dormant winter months. From protecting plants to improving soil, there are many ways for gardeners to prepare now that will pay off later. Understanding what needs to be done and when is key.

Table of Contents

Pros: Why Winter is an Important Season for Gardeners

While the garden may appear bare or covered in snow, winter is far from a “down time” for many gardeners.

Important overwintering tasks set up success for the following growing season. Some of the key benefits of gardening in winter include:

Planning and Design

With fewer actively growing plants, winter provides the perfect opportunity to assess what worked and what didn’t in this year’s garden. Now is an excellent time to sketch plans for improving existing beds or expanding garden space.

Reading through seed catalogs and planning next year’s vegetable garden or flower garden ensures gardeners have all the materials they need once spring planting begins.

Soil Health Improvement

Garden soil often takes a beating after a growing season filled with planting, weeding, foot traffic, and harvested plants leaving empty space.

Replenishing soil nutrients, adding compost, sowing cover crops, or planting green manures in vacant garden beds revitalizes the soil microbiome and improves soil structure. Come spring, enriched soil leads to healthier plants.

Tool Maintenance

While tools sit idle during the winter, it’s a perfect time to clean, sharpen, lubricate, and repair them before the growing season resumes.

Properly caring for and maintaining tools now means they’ll perform better later. Dull tools make spring garden tasks much harder.

Pest and Disease Control

Certain overwintering tasks like removing spent annual plants that may harbor pests and diseases can reduce the chances of issues arising next growing season. Other seasons offer fewer opportunities to deeply clean up garden beds.


The lower light levels of winter make it an ideal time for gardeners to start seeds indoors that will later get transplanted outside come spring—especially plants with long growth times like peppers, eggplants, or tomatoes.

Season Extension Prep

Now is the time to repair, improve, or expand season extending structures like cold frames, low tunnels/hoophouses to shelter plants, or greenhouses to overwinter tender plants and get a jump on spring propagation.

Cons: Challenges for Gardeners in Winter

While winter gardening offers many advantages, it also comes with unique difficulties that can discourage or impair progress:

Inclement Weather

Cold temperatures, early sunsets, snow, ice, and frozen ground make spending time outdoors difficult or dangerous for the under-prepared. Layering clothing helps, but frost bite becomes a real concern during long exposure. Trying to improve soggy soil or work on icy days also poses challenges.

Structural Damage

Heavy snow or severe cold snaps can cause damage like split tree branches or bark, cracked containers, broken trellises or netting, collapsed cold frames, and more. Keeping up with preventative reinforcement and promptly clearing snow helps minimize risks. But unexpected extreme weather still takes a toll.

Lack of Growth to Show Efforts

Unlike other seasons where gardeners can visibly see fruits of their labor sprout up within days or weeks, winter gardening tasks often feel thankless—especially when a blanket of snow covers beds. It takes faith to do the groundwork when there are no visible plants actively growing.

Potential Sabotage or Vandalism

Bare winter gardens mean less eyes on the property, making them susceptible to trespassing, pumpkin smashing, stolen artichokes, trampled beds, and other disheartening damage. Extra precautions become necessary.

Depletion of Plant Inventory

Between shorter days, extreme cold, and hungry critters like deer, rabbits, and rodents, fewer plants can survive winter outdoors in many regions—especially delicate or non-native ones. Sheltering overwintering plants or ensuring back-ups are available come spring requires forethought.

Access to Supplies

Late winter is generally when garden centers and nurseries begin stocking up on soils, fertilizers, tools, and seed inventory for spring. Gardeners who wait too long to purchase needed items may find picked-over selection or back-ordered supplies as demand escalates. Procrastination yields frustration!

Key Winter Gardening Tasks

Beyond planning and preparation for the next growing season, there are a few gardening tasks that feasibly span the dormant winter months outdoors:

Protecting Plants Through Insulation or Sheltering

Mulching over roots or crowns of established perennials with a thick layer of shredded leaves, evergreen branches, hay, or straw keeps soil warmer and plant tissues from experiencing freeze and thaw cycles. Temporary cold frames, cloches, row covers, and low tunnels can shelter larger areas. Bringing potted plants or container gardens into unheated garages, enclosed porches, or basements helps them survive until spring as well.

Some gardeners will wrap tree trunks young or fragile shrubs in burlap or flexible tree guards to prevent animals from nibbling the bark and minimize sunscald. Building semi-permanent structures like cold frames, hoop houses, and greenhouses creates microclimates suitable for overwintering vegetables and tender ornamentals through the coldest months.

Pruning Fruit Trees, Berries, Ornamental Trees & Shrubs

While spring bloomers should wait, mature fruiting trees, deciduous shrubs, berry brambles, grape vines, and ornamental trees actually benefit from careful winter pruning. With leaves gone, it’s easier to see branches that cross or pests that linger. Targeted cutting stimulates better growth and fruit production come next season. Check first for specific varietals’ recommended timing.

Weed & Pest Control

Especially after the first hard frost, lingering weeds and debris from previously harvested annual crops should get removed from beds to prevent diseases and pests from overwintering nearby. Weeds like chickweed will keep growing under snow cover, stealing water and nutrients from desired plants. Stopping them now prevents bigger issues later.

Burlap bags or trap crops placed around beds confuse pests looking to tunnel down or lay eggs in soil so fewer emerge come spring. Keep an eye out for pest infestations or weeds taking hold and address promptly before they spread. Prevention is the key. Selective herbicide application on non-frozen, calm weather days may help eliminate unwanted vegetation trying to set down winter roots. Just beware of chemical drift harming wanted plants.

Liming & Soil Amendment

When beds lie fallow, it creates opportunities to adjust soil pH levels through liming, sprinkling on more compost, mixing in slow-release organic fertilizers, sowing nutrient-boosting cover crops, or planting green manures without disturbing existing plants’ roots or nutrient needs. Come spring, enriched, balanced soil gives new plantings an advantage. Just avoid working soil when frozen or overly wet.

Propagation & Winter Sowing

While outdoor seeding lies dormant under winter conditions across most zones, grow lights and seed starting heat mats allow gardeners to get seeds started for a head start on the natural growing season. Cool-weather loving plants like pansies, snapdragons, kale, arugula, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, radish and more handle lower light and temperatures just fine indoors. Hardening off transplants ensures success moving them outdoors come spring.

The freeze/thaw cycle of winter also naturally scarifies fallen flower and tree seeds left outdoors in containers, preparing them to sprout quickly once warmer weather arrives—no stratification or scarifying required. Gardeners can gather and sow seeds during winter thaws so they become established annuals, perennials or woody shrubs come spring.

Overwintering Tender Perennials Indoors

Many flowering plants like geraniums, fuchsias, impatiens, and even some herbs like rosemary survive winters in Zone 5 and up by coming indoors to protected spaces like sunny windowsills until danger of freeze passes.

Root-bound containers get upgraded to larger pots with fresh potting mix to sustain them through months confined. Transition lighting and moisture levels slowly to avoid shock. Prune back leggy growth to encourage bushy rejuvenation come spring. Monitor for pests hatching in warm indoor temperatures.

Planning Next Year’s Garden Theme

Garden designers often use the wintertime lull to sketch out next season’s beds, borders or pot configurations, decide on a cohesive theme that determines plant palette and hardscaping elements, shop for new additions to implement their vision, and create schedules for staging installations in optimal order.

Projects requiring heavy equipment access or substantial earthworks also schedule contractors during winter’s frozen ground since muddy conditions make spring access difficult. This prep ensures everything comes together beautifully on the original timeline.

Harvesting Winter Vegetables

Once heavy frosts pass, many winter veggie staples like Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, arugula, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, celeriac, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, potatoes and more reach their prime. While production slows in colder zones during deep winter, harvest cycles elsewhere allow supplying produce year-round.

Cold hardy vegetables insulated under hoophouses, low tunnels or straw respond well to winter’s cold shocking them even sweeter. Forgoing pesticides and herbicides used during main growing season, winter harvests offer exceptionally clean organic greens.

Repurposing Fallen Leaves

While seen as debris by some homeowners, the tons of leaves deciduous trees drop remain valuable garden resources. Shredded leaf matter makes exceptional winter mulch and eventual nutritious compost. Leaf mold created from undecomposed whole leaves takes years to form, creating rich humus perfect for moisture retention and topping seed beds come spring.

Chopped leaves stuffed into wire cages become handy cold composting containers. Leaving some piles unmowed builds habitat for butterfly pupae and other beneficial insects.

Pruning Berry Brambles

Left untended, hardy blackberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberry canes turn thickets aggressive enough to take over gardens thanks to rapidly spreading root systems. Judicious winter pruning not only prevents unruly spread, but cutting back the canes which bore this year’s fruit to the base stimulates stronger emergence of next year’s yielding woody stems.

Experts advocate only pruning dormant canes during winter—not live floricanes—to minimize crop losses from unnecessary trauma stressing plants. Proper pruning takes skill.

Seed Starting Under Grow Lights

Getting seeds started indoors 6-12 weeks before the last average frost makes all the difference for successful fruiting of beloved vegetables like heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and herbs. Heated propagation mats or DIY takeout containers keep soil evenly warm until sprouts emerge under simulated long summer days from full-spectrum grow lights.

Seedlings then graduate into larger containers and slowly transition (aka “harden off”) to withstand shifts in outdoor conditions by temporary daytrips outside to garden beds or cold frames they’ll permanently occupy after final spring frosts pass.

Installing Trellises & Plant Supports

Deciduous vegetation disappearing makes winter the most convenient season for installing structures that will later disappear under lush foliage—like obelisks urging vines skyward along a bland wall, bamboo wigwams for pole bean teepees, raised bed grids for weaving peas to climb, wire archways over garden gates dressed in flowering clematis, sturdy cages for summer’s sprawling tomato jungle—or anything requiring substantial anchoring into soil softened by winter precipitation.

Planning now allows lush plants to gracefully drape such handy supports come springtime growth spurts.

Division & Transplanting of Dormant Perennials

Ever-expanding rootbound ornamental plants like daylilies, garden phlox and asters appreciate getting dug up, divided with shovel or saw, reset with improved spacing and enriched backfill to promote flowering and spread. With foliage died back, overgrown specimens get reduced to most viable sections for replanting or potting up extras to gift friends.

Bare root divisions require excellent aftercare shielding from frost heaves, preventing desiccation until new spring shoots emerge. Likewise containerized shrubs, trees and some perennials transplant best while dormant unless grown in zone appropriate containers.

Hardscaping, Construction and Renovation Projects

Ambitious garden makeovers involving significant excavation, demolition, boulder moving, drainage improvements, foundation building, deck/patio additions, raised bed construction, pathway rerouting, or installation of substantial structures like pergolas, pavilions and sheds greatly benefit from scheduling during winter.

Easier access sans most plants in the way quickens pace. In freezing regions, machinery easily traverses hardened surfaces erosion-free. Just beware of underground pipes and wires or surprises emerging from thawing soil as spring nears. Consider tarps covering piles.

Seasonal Decorating

Evergreen branches, colorful twigs, seed pods alongside boasted winter fare like gourds and citrus fruits help create festive seasonal interior arrangements. Many gardeners craft holiday wreaths, centerpieces, garlands and lawn ornaments from foraged backyard plant parts that could otherwise harbor pests if left on living plants past fall.

Greenery clippings combined with ribbon and pinecones keep delivering garden goodness even through the darkest days of winter when growing things seem scarce. Crafting makes ideal hobbies for gardening enthusiasts stuck inside.

Bird Feeding Tips

Bare winter gardens still bustle with birds sourcing seeds, berries and insects essential to survive shorter days and long cold nights. Setting up bird-friendly sanctuaries with fresh water, additional roosting spots near feeders, brush piles that provide shelter yet allow cats to access hunting birds undermine ornithological welfare.

Offering shelled sunflowers, nyjer thistle, millet, safflower, peanuts, suet cakes, cracked corn and fruit attracts the most species needing crucial high-fat, high-carb winter diet supplementation.

Winter Plant Care Checklist

  • Monitor precipitation levels and soil moisture often since wind and frozen ground encourage desiccation. Water dormant plants during winter thaws as needed.
  • Check for critter damage,scrapes or bleeding sap on tree trunks and consider applying protective wrap if issues found.
  • Scout for pests hiding in bark crevices or plants debris that need removal before reproduction cycles restart
  • Search for heaving plants lifted by freeze/thaw cycles that need soil mounded back around roots
  • Dislodge heavy snow loads weighing down conifers before branches permanently splay
  • Sink cut evergreen branches into pots for insulation protection
  • Ensure irrigation systems and pipes drain properly on cold nights to prevent ruptures
  • Place rodent guards around base of vulnerable trees and shrubs
  • Monitor overwintering tropical plants for signs of struggle and tweak conditions
  • Identify locations that will soon require spring pruning and stakes for support installed

Pet Safety Considerations

Common garden threats harm curious cats and dogs when left unaddressed, so review the safety of plants potted for indoor overwintering away from nibbling paws. Ensure holiday plants like poinsettia, holly, lilies and mistletoe don’t accidentally get consumed, avoiding gastrointestinal irritation for pets. Use pet-safe ice melt products to limit chemical absorption through paws.

Thoroughly tap off clingy road salt clinging to fur during walks to prevent irritation when grooming. Invest in warmer dog sweaters, booties and coated leashes that make getting outside easier despite the cold, snow or ice.

Winter Gardening Supplies & Tools

Here are handy implements and gear that help make winter gardening more feasible despite chillier days:

  • Hand warmers tucked into gloves
  • Thermal overalls, padded gloves and waterproof winter boots
  • Extra sleds, salt/sand and shovels for clearing paths
  • Hot packs to help seedlings germinate indoors
  • Handheld scrapers for removing ice
  • Thick knee pads cushioning cold, damp earth
  • Headlamps extending work time after earlier sunsets
  • Tarps for covering compost piles prone to saturation
    Are there any other aspects of winter gardening you would like me to expand on? Please let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions.

FAQ: Common Winter Gardening Questions

If braving chilly temperatures to ready your garden beds seems daunting, these answers shed light on what gardening during the dormant season entails and why it matters:

What do gardeners do during the winter?

Gardeners keep rather busy over the winter assessing this year’s garden, preparing beds for next year’s growing season through weeding, amending soil, pruning some plants, and getting a jump on propagating transplants indoors under grow lights. Hardscaping projects, tool maintenance, and planning new designs also take place over the winter resting period.

What do you do to a garden in the winter?

To minimize issues come spring, removing spent plants debris and weeds from garden beds prevents diseases and pests from overwintering in the space nearby. Adding compost, leaves, or other organic material replenishes the soil while snow cover acts as a blanket keeping soil slightly warmer. Leaving seeds heads and stalks provides food for birds over winter.

Why is winter a good season for gardeners?

Less weed and pest pressure combined with available prep time plus the opportunity to start seeds early indoors makes winter an advantageous season for savvy gardeners wanting to get a headstart on growing. With proper protection for plants not hardy enough to withstand freezing temperatures through insulation, garden cloches, cold frames or greenhouses, the dormant months don’t have to mean a bare garden unable to supply fresh produce.

What do horticulturists do in the winter?

In regions with freezing winter weather, horticulturists shift efforts to greenhouse propagation, inventory, landscaping consultations, tree care such as pruning and staking, equipment maintenance, and planning for upcoming projects with clients. Summer horticulture field work pauses thanks to snow and frozen soil until temperatures warm again.

What do gardeners do for money in the winter?

Gardeners supplement income through seasonal decor like wreath making as well as by building gardening boxes, making plant cages or trellises, starting seedlings, creating garden markers and signs, offering pruning services for trees and shrubs, building cold frames or hoop houses, and consulting or teaching classes. Some create garden-themed crafts, record gardening tutorial videos/podcasts, or write for blogs during the off-season.

Do gardeners come in the winter?

Unless they offer snow removal services, most gardeners don’t come to residential properties during the winter months since snow cover and frozen soil prevents the majority of typical garden maintenance like mowing, edging, pruning, planting, weeding, and cleanup. Exceptions occur when clients hire gardeners to decorate, install holiday lighting, or take care of any colder weather landscaping special projects.

What happens to vegetable gardens in winter?

In regions with harsh winters, the majority of vegetable plants die back after heavy frost and harvest since they only last one growing season. Kitchen staple crops hardy enough—like kale, carrots, parsnips, garlic and more—overwinter under thick mulch and may resprout come spring. Gardeners often cover beds with leaves or straw over winter to insulate soil and provide nutrients once tilled under before replanting seasonal veggies again.

Do people landscape in the winter?

Evergreens offer winter interest alongside structural elements like fencing, trellises, dry creek beds, stone walls, and hardscapes unchanged by the cooler months—making winter actually a smart season for installing the “bones” of a landscape without having to work around so many actively growing plants’ root zones. Snow can make accessing soil difficult in many zones however, so the majority of winter landscape projects focus on design and planning rather than planting.

How do I make my winter garden pretty?

While fewer plants actively grow during winter, the bare bones of the garden still offer visual interest. Decorative touches like placing ornamental branches, reed grasses, bark, colorful twigs, dried seed pods, berries and interesting evergreen foliage around beds provides texture and color. temporary cold frames act as mini greenhouses sheltering overwintering greens and flowers. Lighting shrubs, trees, and structural elements extends time spent enjoying the winter garden’s elegance after dark.

Is horticulturist a stressful job?

The broad field of horticulture spans growers, landscapers, garden center staff, private estate gardeners, groundskeepers, floral designers, arborists, plant researchers, extension agents, consultants and more. Stress levels greatly depend on role. While jobs focused on plant production and care follow more seasonal rhythms, sales-focused, client-facing, or research positions often experience high peak periods and require overtime. Both office and field work carry respective demands. Overall most horticulturists feel deeply rewarded helping plants thrive.

What do farmers do with fields in winter?

While crops grow on some farms year-round thanks to greenhouses and hydroponics, farmers with outdoor fields take advantage of fallow winter months to repair drainage, irrigation systems and roads between beds, spread composted manure, gypsum or lime depending on soil test results, reformat fields, establish cover crops to boost soil health, care for overwintering cash crops, invest in new equipment or technologies, and plan crop rotations for the coming season.

What is the daily life of a horticulturist?

Horticulturists who care for botanical collections and landscaped environments start mornings assessing plant health across their sites after equipment inspection and fueling. Plant healthcare like watering, pruning, replanting, fertilizing, and pest treatments dominate daily routines balanced by administrative tasks like record keeping, supply ordering, scheduling repairs, budget tracking, and corresponding with clients or supervisors especially during weather extremes impacting operations. Education programs, tours, exhibits, or consultations may supplement some roles.


While little seems to grow in frost-laden winter gardens, the season offers fertile ground for progress by planning and preparing for future bounty. Clearing unruly summer debris, amending mute soil, propagating promising sprouts, and protecting vulnerable roots through the lean months ahead all lead to success once warmth returns again.

The idle illusion deceives—gardeners who prioritize using winter wisdoms will reap savings of time, toil and tears later. Spring’s sprouting seeds simply finish the masterpiece sketched out during winter’s creative retreat. So bundle up, head out with intention, and tend the opportunities awaiting beneath the snow. Invest now and the winter garden returns dividends come springtime’s full glory.

Cathryn Thompson

Hi, I am Cathryn Thompson. I am a full-time blogger. I ditched my 9-5 job many years back to explore life a bit more. In this blog, I like writing about everything that can save us from the monotony of regular life and live our life to the fullest.

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