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How Does Your Winter Garden Grow?

15 Jan 2022 9:41 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

For gardeners, winter is that interlude when you plan your spring garden, flip through seed catalogs, buy too many seeds, and dream of a healthy, lush garden coming spring and summer.  But savvy gardeners know that often what you do—outside in winteris just as important.  Here are a few conventional—and unconventional—thoughts some of our friends said they would be doing this winter in their gardens.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow 

Winter is all about harvesting water, the frozen kind. It’s the cold-season equivalent of installing rain barrels. When it snows, I get up early before the plows arrive and blow or shovel fresh snow from the street onto the front lawn and hell strip side garden. (Don’t ever harvest street snow after the plows come; those frozen slush chunks are filled with salts/ice melt that will poison your garden. Learn from my mistake!)  Move snow from your walkways, driveways, and decks to the dripline of trees. Redistribute “avalanche” snow that comes off the roofs. Each snow harvest will buy you a couple of days of not having to water in spring. Best of all: It's free for the taking. (Mike Smedley, DBG Benefactor)

O’Tannenbaum, OTannenbaum

You may have already disposed of your Christmas tree but try this next year.  Cut off the branches and put them over rock gardens, sunny exposures, or newly planted areas. The point is not to “warm” the area with insulation or some sort of mulch. Rather, the point is to shade the soil, keep it evenly cool and prevent the harmful freeze-thaw cycle during mid-winter or the usual January 50-degree heat wave. Think of how snow persists in shady areas on a ski mountain. Same with your garden. Durango’s harsh sun can coax some plants out of dormancy too soon. Pine boughs help keep snow layers from melting.  Remove boughs in March and add them to the compost pile.  (Mike Smedley)

Forcing Those Bulbs for Your Indoor Garden

The snow is deep at my house after the Christmas storm and gardening thoughts are far away.  Recently, at the grocery store, I saw pots of tulips in bloom and I thought “Aha! Those were FORCED”, meaning they were pre-chilled in the dark for a number of weeks and then brought into more heat and light where they promptly grew and bloomed.  At my house, I set aside a few hyacinth bulbs from DBG’s fall bulb sale for forcing, using vases designed for this purpose.  I added water to the vases just enough to “tickle” the root plates and set them in the refrigerator, adding small amounts of water as needed. In another 3 weeks, I will start to bring them out and hopefully have blooms by Valentine’s Day, weeks before those planted outside will emerge.  (Melanie Palmer, curator, Durango Botanic Gardens)

Why Winter Watering?

Many of our landscape (and native) plants have had to endure years of drought, higher than normal temperatures, and long periods of a combination of both. Over time, that stresses plants, making them more susceptible to disease, insects or other environmental conditions.

A potential result of this drawn-out weather pattern could be death to the parts of the plant’s root system, especially with newly planted or stressed plants. Woody plants typically have shallow root systems and require supplemental watering. Herbaceous perennials and groundcovers, especially those in exposed sites, can be subjected to cracking in soil that exposes roots to cold and drying.  Even recently established lawns have a shallow root system and can quickly dry out.  One of the ways to moderate this stress is to water during the winter months, as long as these guidelines are followed:   (Darrin Parmenter, LaPlata County Extension Director)

Good Time for Tree pruning

Although it may be cold and snowy outside, winter is actually one of the best times to prune your deciduous trees and shrubs. Dormancy pruning provides a number of benefits, such as decreased disease and insect movement, more readily visible structure, minimized sap and nutrient loss, quicker healing of pruning cuts, increased spring growth, and increased sunlight availability to understory plants.

From late-fall to late-winter, you can prepare your deciduous trees and shrubs for the spring. However, evergreens, in most situations, should be pruned during the growing season, since they never become fully dormant and might suffer tip burn if pruned during dormancy. Pruning during warmer months can have advantages: slowing growth by reducing the total leaf surface area and proper thinning of blooms can create sweeter and more mature fruit in the fall. It is always a great time to care for the trees you love!  (Moses Cooper, ISA Certified Arborist MI-4220A, Owner of Momentum Tree Experts, Durango CO

Always prune just outside the branch collar--the point where one branch leaves the larger one (or trunk).

For tips on pruning visit: website:

More Reasons Spring is the Best Time to Prune Wood Plants
Eva Montane of Columbine Landscapes offers additional thoughts on pruning: "With few exceptions, early spring is the best time to prune your shrubs and trees. Pruning stimulates growth, and what better time to bring on new growth than spring? The key is to do your pruning before buds start popping for four good reasons:

  1. You don’t risk damaging the delicate new buds and sprouts
  2. You can easily see the branching structure enabling you to select for the best architecture of your shrub or tree
  3. By pruning while it is still dormant (meaning it hasn’t pushed out new growth yet, so should still be brown twigs – no green) you avoid stressing the plant
  4. Wounds from your pruning cuts heal faster in late winter/early spring 

By removing old, unhealthy branches and congestion, branches benefit from more sunlight. You can expect more flowers as a result of a healthier vibrant plant."  (Eva Montane, owner, Columbine Landscapes)

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NOTE: Our physical location is 1900 E. Third Avenue, at the Durango Public Library. The gardens are located to the north and east of the library, along the Animas River Trail.

Mailing Address:

Durango Botanic Gardens

10 Town Plaza, #460

Durango, CO  81301

Phone: 970-880-4841

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Durango Botanic Gardens

Our Location:

The Durango Botanic Gardens are physically located at the Durango Public Library, to the north and east of the library.  The library is located at 1900 E. 3rd Ave., Durango.

There is no admission charge.  Stroll the gardens yourself (there is ample signage in most gardens) or call us at 970-880-4841 to arrange a group tour. See the About Us Tab for more.

Contact Us:

10 Town Plaza, #460
Durango, CO  81301    

Phone:  970-880-4841

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