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Banish the winter blues by preparing for spring

February 9, 2011

Prune now to get plenty of apple blossoms and fruit later.

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After the blizzards and sub-zero temperatures of the last two months, I’m more than ready for spring. I’m also depressed by the endless gray, cold days filled with intermittent snow storms. So, I’m banishing the blues by doing a few winter chores so I can hit the ground running when the first crocus pop.

You can prune fruit trees any time it’s warm enough to be outdoors. Pruning needs to be done when the trees are dormant to control size and encourage fruit blossoms.

Doing it now means I have to wade through nearly three feet of snow to my miniature apple orchard. I’m burning a lot of calories and pounds. I already saw a five-pound drop on the scales this morning from two pruning sessions.

That’s enough to banish the blues, for me!

Wading through three-feet-deep snow to prune is a great calorie-burner!

While you prune, scatter the clippings on the ground or snow away from the trees. Rabbits and other pests will eat these and leave the trees alone. 

Grapevines should be pruned during the cold months, too. Cut them back heavily, pruning to the darker, rusty-brown wood to encourage new growth. Grape clusters form on new growth. Don’t worry if a sap drips from the cuts. It’s only water and won’t hurt anything.

See the Almanac's winter pruning guide.

While you’re out there in the snow, take a broom and gently brush off any accumulated snow from trees and shrubs. Young branches can easily break from the snow’s weight. The yew hedge in front of my house was half-buried from the last blizzard and required serious sweeping.

After I got the sidewalk shoveled after the last blizzard, sweeping snow off the hedge was the next job.  This much snow can break young branches.

Another housekeeping task that can be done on any day you feel like braving the weather is spreading fireplace ashes around lilac bushes and fruit trees. Scatter the ashes around the base of the trees and bushes, on top of the snow, in about a three-foot-diameter circle. As the snow melts and the ground thaws, minerals and other nutrients in wood ash will percolate down to root systems. Any hard wood that is burned in a fireplace supplies numerous trace elements, calcium, zinc, copper and other minerals that fruit trees crave.

Images of spring! Wood ash helps to sweeten the soil around lilacs, which bloom more lavishly in alkaline ground.

Start feeding houseplants again in mid to late February, depending on your latitude. Southern ones, start fertilizing on Valentine’s Day; northern zones, resume feeding at the end of the month. As the sun becomes stronger and days lengthen, plants begin to grow again and need nutrition.

Tell us what you do to banish the winter blues, such as any small jobs you do to help your garden during winter.

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including Amazon.com.


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Winter Blues


I make an ice garden, this is my second year. I put out pans of water and then stand the ice on end and back it up with Christmas lights. I would love to send you a photo so that others would do the same. GCB

Pruning and Pests

By Amy Nieskens

Nice tips about leaving your pruned materials out for the pests to enjoy. It's always hard to keep deer and rabbits at bay in the wintertime. Plus, less clean up for me!


By Catherine Boeckmann

Doreen, I like the idea of gardening for weight loss! They do go hand in hand. :-)

2015 Special Edition Garden GuideCooking Fresh with The Old Farmer's AlmanacThe Almanac Monthly Digital MagazineWhat the heck is a Garden Hod?