10 Garden Activities To Beat The Winter Blues

Don’t let the cold weather get you down.

Flowering Branches
Photo: Erica George Dines

Even on the darkest days of winter, there are still plenty of gardening activities to enjoy. Get outside while the sun is shining to clip blooms and branches for a winter bouquet. Or grow something indoors to scratch that gardening itch. Indoors and out, these ten garden activities will help you beat the winter blues.

Force Flowers Indoors

Brighten up a winter day with fresh flowers. Many flowering bulbs can be forced to bloom out of season for a colorful winter display. The easiest bulbs to force are Paperwhite Narcissus because they don't require chilling, which is a period of cold temperatures necessary for many bulbs to flower. Other commonly forced bulbs include amaryllis, muscari, and hyacinths. For a greater challenge try forcing colchicum or miniature iris. When selecting bulbs, look for varieties sold specifically for indoor forcing, as they are "pre-chilled" and ready to bloom.

Feed the Birds

Food choices are getting scarce for our feathered friends. Hang a feeder outside the window near your favorite chair and enjoy the action. Offer calorie-rich food high in fat and protein such as black oil sunflower, suet, and peanuts. Each of these foods draws in different bird species. You might consider buying a bird book to identify species you don't recognize. Don't forget to offer a fresh source of water for bathing and drinking. Water features with moving water often remain unfrozen throughout winter, or you can use a simple heater to warm the water in winter and prevent freezing.

Make a Winter Bouquet

You can find something blooming even in the dead of winter. Grab your flower snips and head outside to collect a winter bouquet. Look for the rose-like blooms of Japanese camellias or the fragrant blossoms of winter daphne. Add yellow-flowering stems of winter jasmine or witch hazel, and clusters of vibrant pink winter heath. Finish floral arrangements with evergreen foliage cut from hollies, magnolia, and colorful loropetalum, or berry-covered branches of winterberry holly.

Clean and Sharpen Your Pruning Tools

Late winter and early spring are the best times to prune trees and shrubs, cut back grasses, and trim perennials. Get ready for these tasks by sharpening your pruners and loppers. Pruning goes much faster when your tools are clean, sharp, and oiled.

Build a Terrarium

Terrariums date back to Victorian England where they were first used for botanical purposes and later as interior decoration. They are simple gardens enclosed in glass or plastic. Terrariums provide an ideal growing environment that can be adapted to specific plant material, allowing you to grow a greater diversity of indoor plants. You can create a humid environment for ferns, mosses, and even the Venus flytrap. Curate a dry terrarium to showcase miniature cacti or design a humid, tropical scene with vibrant foliage. The possibilities are endless.

Force Woody Branches to Bloom

Just as you can force bulbs to bloom out of season, you can force deciduous woody plants to bloom early by bringing stem cuttings indoors and placing them in a vase of water. Late winter is the time to force woody branches, after plants have already experienced at least six weeks of cold temperatures. Spring-flowering trees and shrubs, such as forsythia, flowering quince, and peach trees, work best for winter forcing.

Start Seeds

Planting seeds and tending seedlings is a great way to spend a winter day. It also saves you money on transplants and allows you to select from a much wider selection of cultivars. When you start your own seeds, you can also time seed sowing according to your expected planting date so that transplants are ready when you need them. Refer to seed packets and look up the average last frost date for your region to determine the optimal sowing time.

Clean and Repair Bird Houses

Winter is a great time to prepare bird houses for the arrival of breeding birds in spring. Remove old nests and disinfect houses with a diluted bleach solution. A clean house is more attractive to birds seeking nest sites and proper sanitation improves the chances of a healthy and successful brood. Make sure your birdhouses are in place well before the breeding season begins.

Pot Up Summer-Flowering Bulbs

Give stored summer-flowering bulbs a head start by potting them up in late winter. While you can certainly wait until soils warm to plant stored bulbs such as canna directly outdoors, why not give them a jump start? By initiating growth indoors, we can encourage plants to bloom earlier once they are moved outdoors, giving us a longer bloom season in the garden.

Grow Sprouts or Microgreens

We all know that good things come in small packages, and it seems this adage holds true for vegetables—in the form of sprouts and microgreens. Sprouts are essentially immature, miniature plants harvested shortly after germination, while microgreens are young, tender plants harvested as seedlings. They are both packed with flavor and nutrition, and easy to grow right on the countertop.

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