Although winter is setting in, many indoor and outdoor gardening tasks beckon.  Jason Reeves, a research horticulturist at the University of Tennessee Gardens in Jackson offers these reminders for year-round gardening enthusiasts:

Don't forget to water your succulents. “Just because they like it on the dry side doesn't mean they don't need water. The lack of humidity in your home during the winter months can dry them out more than you think,” said Reeves. “Depending on the pot size and the soil-to-plant ratio, I water mine every two to three weeks. I like to set them in the sink for the process. If they are really dry, you may need to water them twice because the first time you water them it may run through.”

If you have stored tropical plants for the winter, don’t forget them, says the gardening expert. “Keep an eye on elephant ears, bananas, cannas, ginger, agaves, and Boston and Kimberly Queen ferns that you may have stored in an enclosed garage, basement or crawl space under the house,” said Reeves. “They don't need to totally dry out.” On the other hand, Reeves adds that tropical can easily be overwatered, causing them to rot. He recommends removing rotting foliage to prevent further decay.

For some added color and fragrance during the bleak days of January and February, Reeves encourages gardeners to check out local garden centers for leftover paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs that are likely to be on sale. “Look for bulbs that are firm and have not sprouted,” he recommends. “To keep your paperwhites from flopping over, add alcohol to the water.” For details on this unusual cultural technique, Reeves refers gardeners to this website from Cornell:
Outdoors, Reeves says homeowners should continue to keep leaves off the lawn, especially cool-season lawns, because they continue to photosynthesize during the winter. “On a dry, warmish day you can mow both cool- and warm-season lawns to help groom the lawn and mulch the leaves.” However, the expert cautions to avoid heavy traffic on cool-season lawns during cold snaps when grass is frozen. Frozen grass is easily broken and the crown can be severely damaged, he says.
Trees, especially evergreens, can also be prone to damage during wet winters. “In the event of a wet snow, brush snow off evergreens as it accumulates, or as soon as possible after the storm,” Reeves said.  “Serious damage can be caused by heavy wet snow.”  Reeves recommends using a broom in an upward, sweeping motion to encourage heavy snow to fall all the way to the ground. He also recommends avoiding the use of salt to melt snow and ice from walks and driveway, as it can be harmful to plants. Environmentally friendly products are available at home improvement stores.

For the diehard enthusiast, the expert says you can continue to plant new trees and shrubs as long as the ground is not frozen.  “Just tuck them in with a 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch,” he said. “Remember to keep the mulch away from the trunk, however.”

Reeves reminds gardeners that pansies will benefit if you pinch off their withered and cold-damaged blooms, and he encourages them to not lose faith if Old Man Winter is particularly harsh. “Study seed catalogs if the cold days of winter seem unrelenting,” he said. “And dream of lush, warmer days.” 

The University of Tennessee Gardens located in Knoxville and Jackson are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. Their mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, collections, educational programs and research trials. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. See and for more information.


Jason Reeves,