Do you have any pointers on what we, (in MN) can do during these winter...

Asked November 29, 2014, 11:44 AM EST

Do you have any pointers on what we, (in MN) can do during these winter months to help prepare for the necessary early spring work that our gardens and yards will need? the one thing I think of is cleaning up our garden tools and sharpening them. as needed. Would appreciate more ideas. Can you suggest an early blooming perennial or bush that would be tolerant of zone 4? Thank you, Helen Guggemos

McLeod County Minnesota

1 Response

Thank you for the question. In addition to maintaining your garden tools, you can clean all your outdoor pots and sterilize them with a 10% bleach solution to prevent spread of disease when you replant next spring. Winter is a good time to assess the need for, and, to prune trees. It's much easier to do this when the branches are bare and trees are dormant. Make sure you have young trees and shrubs protected from rabbit and other small mammal damage by encircling trunks with hardware cloth. Other tasks are more cerebral. If you start plants indoors, make your seed choices and line up all the supplies you'll need for this. Make a planting guide so that when the time is right, you can plant into your garden without delay. Winter is a good time to take a class to learn more about gardening subjects that interest you. There are on-line classes through the University as well as classes put on by your local Extension office or gardening clubs. You could also check out sowing seeds in the winter using containers and placing them outside where snow and moisture enter and pile up on the container. There is nothing more to do other than ensure that the seed starting mixture remains moist. When daylight increases and the soil warms to the optimum temperature, the seeds will germinate. The containers act as miniature cold frames. The plants will already be hardened off and ready to transplant into your garden in May after the danger of frost is past. Here are directions on how to do it from Michelle Mero Riedel: WINTER & SPRING SOWING INSTRUCTIONS January 2011 Michelle Mero Riedel
For milk, distilled water and similar containers, gallon sized, rinsed, toss cap. 1. Cut four 1” holes in the bottom of the milk jug with a utility knife. Twist knife to make a hole. 2. Cut a horizontal line with utility knife from one side of handle to the other, about 3-5” from bottom of milk jug, leaving a 1” hinge. 3. Grab handle and pull back to open container. Again, don’t cut all the way so you have a hinge. 4. Add soil to 1” from cut line. 5. Water well so soil is muddy and you see water coming out bottom. 6. Take a break to make sure water will flow out the bottom. 7. Flatten soil so there isn’t any peaks or valleys. 8. Add seeds, as many as you wish. 9. Cover with enough soil, the diameter of the seed (example if seed is 1/8” in diameter, add 1/8 inch of soil). Additional soil is not needed if seeds are very tiny. 10. Lightly add more water to moisten. 11. Add a plant label along inside container wall with name of plant, color, light requirements, and height. This label will go into the garden. 12. Close cover and duct tape in place. Clear duct tape is best. 13. Label container lid with plant name and date. 14. Remember to toss the container cap. 15. Place outside on the east, south, or west side of your house. Allow snow to pile on top and collect rain. Can put container on patio, in garden, on grass, on picnic table, on deck. Do not put under deck, awning, or roofline.
For bakery, takeout, produce, or rotisserie chicken containers: 1. Follow same instructions as milk containers except add holes at top of the container. 2. Add as much soil as you can. 3. Place plant label inside on its side. 4. No need to tape unless the container won’t stay closed. 5. Label container top.
Hints 1. Plant perennials and hardy annuals January, February, and March 2. Plant annuals, herbs, and vegetables April 1-20. 3. After late April, they can be direct sown in the ground 4. Most Aprils are wet, so you won’t have to water until early May. 5. Watch containers for drying and water if necessary with hose attachment on mist. Be gentle with small seedlings. 6. If you wish, as weather warms up, open containers during the day, and close at night if temps are too cool or below freezing. 7. Bring your tender annual plants indoors or in your garage if temps are at or below freezing. Perennials can remain outside. They can take the cold. 8. On hot spring days, you might want to move your containers to receive less sun (east side of home) so they don’t completely dry out. 9. Can cut off lid when weather warms up, usually after May 15. 10. Wait for mature roots before dividing. 11. For additional information, go to This website contains information that isn't necessarily research based.
Use this University of Minnesota publication to research plants suitable for your growing season. You'll need to take into account light exposure, moisture, and space allotment for any plant you choose. Click on "Plant Selection".
Thank you for contacting Extension.