Planning a garden begins in winter

Beckie Fox

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Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.”

—Josephine Nuese, author of “The Country Garden”

The only things that keep my spirits up during the long drag of January and February are the plant and seed catalogues arriving via the post or found online. I fold down corners of print seed catalogues, make lists from online catalogues, and generally sit back and dream. Lists of seeds and bulbs expand, shrink and shift.

Now is the time to look at photos of last year’s containers to see which plants carried their weight. Or walk the garden to study its “bones”: the paths, the tree canopy, the condition of fences and arbours. Too often, routine and never ending summer tasks distract us from giving our gardens an evaluating look at the overall picture.

Winter is a good time to look at photos from last year to see what plants worked well in containers.
Now is a good time to look at photos from last year to see what plants worked well in containers.

For me, it’s time to peek at the dahlia tubers in storage to see if the peat moss they’re buried in needs a spritz or two of water. Time also to review notes in my garden journal. (You have a journal, right? Or a big envelope with plant tags? Or wall calendar with notes hanging in the garage?)

More resources

Here are a few more ideas to get your gardening juices flowing:

  • Check in with your local horticultural society to see what their speaker lineup is for the upcoming months. Most gardening groups have websites you can search. In Ontario, go to to find a group in your area.
  • It’s too early to start seeds indoors for the vegetable garden, but if you’re yearning to grow something edible, try microgreens. Carol Pope writes about growing basil and kale seedlings indoors — perfect to snip for winter salads and stir-fries.
  • If this is the year you’re going to start keeping a garden journal and you live in the southern Ontario, check out Toronto & Golden Horseshoe Gardener’s Journal & Source Book. The journal has a long history. Started by Margaret Bennett-Alder in 1991, the publishing of the journal was passed on three years ago to sisters Sarah and Helen Battersby of the popular website They’ve expanded the journal and the source book section—books, nurseries, gardens, mail-order—is also available as a separate ebook. Go to
  • For those of you who have become attached to the poinsettia you acquired for the holidays, and want to learn how to get them to bloom next season—or at least thrive as a green houseplant — you’ll find advice on the website, written by Melissa J. Will in Ontario.
  • Give your houseplants some love. Dust that builds up on plant leaves can affect photosynthesis and allow a foothold for disease or pest infestations. For small plants, set the pot in the kitchen sink and lightly spray the leaves with lukewarm water. For large plants, dampen a soft, clean cloth and gently wipe leaf surfaces. For plants with fuzzy leaves, such as African violet, use a soft brush to dislodge dust.

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3 thoughts on “Planning a garden begins in winter”

  1. So glad to see the re-emergence of your news letter! I’ve so missed your magazine so this will be something to look forward to again.

  2. Delighted to see the re emergence of the newsletter! Unexpectedly we had to move and the large barren-looking backyard is carpeted in lumpy, weedy grass and holds only what was a large square vegetable garden. No trees or shrubs and all in full sun. The soil was smothered in landscape fabric (since removed) and I planted the small number of perennials I brought with me in early fall hoping that some may flourish.
    Since we may not be at this place long and don’t want to spend much I have decided to fill in with large annuals as a background to the perennials. Could not resist buying a couple of packets of tall sunflower seeds while grocery shopping last week!
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.


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