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Winter garden projects can be fun, too

When we’re stuck in the middle of winter and spring seems a loo-ong way off, it can be a frustrating time for those of us who love to be outside tending to our gardens or tinkering with our landscaping.

It feels like there’s nothing we can do except maybe browse print or online plant catalogs. But there are quite a few activities we can indulge in if we want to keep the green from fading entirely from our fingers! There are even some ways to involve other members of the family, too.

If you have children or grandchildren who enjoy their time with you in your garden, there are a number of ways to maintain their horticultural interest until spring arrives. Here are just a few of the fun ideas that I found at http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/wintrfun.htm in an article written by Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont:

Windowsill gardens. When the weather keeps your kids inside, try cultivating a windowsill garden. All you need is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil. Herbs are an excellent choice for windowsills. Later, kids can harvest their herbs and add their own creative touch to a meal you prepare together.

Watch seeds sprout. Maybe you did this in grade school! You simply line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert several zucchini seeds between the glass and the towel. Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it's still moist. Seeds should sprout in a few days. You can try bush beans instead of zucchini, if you prefer.

Feed the birds. Stock up on birdseed and suet at your local garden center, and feed the birds this winter. Have your child keep a record of all the species of birds that come to the feeder and what date each first was spotted.

Dr. Perry has many other kid-friendly winter gardening project ideas (personally, I’m not too sure about the worm farm!) and you can find the entire article by visiting the web page listed above. If you prefer, you can go to my web site www.landsteward.org and find this column archived under “The Plant Man” heading. You can then click on a direct link to that article as well as many other useful online resources.

An enjoyable cold-weather project for adults is the creation of a mini indoor winter garden.

If you don’t have enough room for a full-size terrarium (or you don’t care to invest in one) you can create a miniature terrarium environment using something called a cloche. A cloche is a bell-shaped glass cover that you can place over a single plant in a small pot.

Garden supply stores and some craft shops sell “real” cloches, but you probably have something in your kitchen that you can use as a substitute. Find a vase or a large glass jar and turn it upside down over the plant. The cloche will keep the moisture in and will act like a tiny greenhouse. Place your cloche-covered plant on a south-facing windowsill, but avoid long exposure to direct sunlight. A small button fern would be an ideal plant to cultivate in this way.

You can find a useful description of how to set up a terrarium (complete with photos) at www.hgtv.com where you simply type the phrase “indoor winter gardens” into the “search” window. Again, there’s a link to the hgtv web site in this column at my web site.

I am sometimes asked if it is wise to try and remove ice and snow from trees to prevent the weight from breaking the limbs. If snow is piling up on evergreens, try to brush it off gently, but do not shake the branches as you could cause them to snap!

If ice has built up on branches, I believe that in most cases it is best to let it melt naturally, rather than risk damaging the tree or shrub. If a limb should break due to the weight of ice, it is advisable to have the limb cut off cleanly because a clean cut will help the wound to heal faster in the spring.

Take heart: spring will soon be here!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.com