Check Your Garden
This may seem like a good time to curl up by the fire, but you can prevent problems later by periodically taking a walk in the garden and tending to tasks now. Pull winter weeds while they're still small; look for frost-heaved perennials, then push them back into the soil and mulch; prune broken limbs to prevent injury and disease; water shallow-rooted plants like azaleas and blueberries during a thaw if there is no rain; apply anti-desiccant spray to broad-leaved evergreens; and prevent sun scald on young trees by wrapping the trunk and rodent damage by putting a circle of hardware cloth at the base.
Deal Safely with Snow and Ice
Snow can be a good thing for the garden as it acts as an insulating mulch and provides water when it melts. However, there are situation where action should be taken. First of all, be careful not to pile snow on plant with a shovel or snow blower as it tends to compact. If a heavy snow bends tender branches, especially on conifers, use a broom to gently sweep in an upward motion, loosening snow and allowing it to fall. Don't try to remove ice, as branches are likely to break. Salt-based de-icing products harm both plants and soil. Instead, use sand- or clay-based kitty litter.
Inventory and Test Seeds
As you plan your garden for this year, start by taking an inventory of seeds that were not planted last year. Often, these will still be viable, especially if they were stored in a cool, dry place. To determine if they're worth planting, test the seeds by placing a slightly dampened paper towel on a flat surface, then placing a few seeds on top. Loosely roll the paper towel, then place in a plastic bag and set in a 65 degree F place for a few days. If at least half the seeds have sprouted, then the remainder are worth planting. Armed with this information, you are now ready to study seed catalogs and order.
Nurture Your Houseplants
Routinely inspect your houseplants for pests and diseases as well as to see if they're receiving enough light. For plants provided with natural light, give them a quarter-turn each week so that they grow evenly. If your plants are producing extended, straggly stems, then consider growing them under fluorescent lights or moving them to a brighter location. When pests like whiteflies or spider mites are found on houseplants, there are several antidotes. If caught early, simply spray the leaves to wash off the pests. For larger infestations, try an insecticidal soap, neem, or pyrethrin spray. Increasing the humidity around houseplants and watering regularly is sure way to keep them healthy.
Study Your Garden
Winter provides an ideal environment to study your garden and make plans for improvements. Look at your garden from various angles, both from indoors and out. Think about how you use your garden. Would you enjoy it more if there were better vistas from your kitchen or family room? Do you need to block some views? Would you spend more time outdoors if the deck or patio were expanded? Would you like to grow more vegetables or fruits, but want that area to be attractive as well as functional? Are structures like fences or walks needed? Look at pictures of other gardens in books, magazines, and online, put your thoughts on paper with words or sketches, and decide what you can do this year to make your garden better than ever.