Garden Tips & Tools


I try not to cut my perennials back in the winter. Those tall, brown stalks may hold seed heads
that provide a food source for birds. Some varieties of salvia continue producing flowers all winter long,
offering up nectar and a little color in an otherwise drab landscape. The problem is that winter storms, which are
often accompanied by high winds, can knock those perennials flat. That’s why I’m so addicted to these new
rainbow spiral supports from Gardener’s Supply Company. I just push two or
three of them in the ground around shrubs and perennials that are vulnerable to
storm damage. They help hold the plant up and they add a little color to the
garden. In early spring, when I don’t
need them as stakes, I gather them all up and place them together in an empty
spot in the garden, as a kind of informal focal point.

I’m also a
big fan of straw bale gardens. Although
it is too early to get vegetables in the ground, you could start clearing a
space now for this above-ground concept. Most feed stores sell bales of rice straw, a seed-free straw that would
otherwise be burned. Buy three bales, or more if you’d like to plant a bigger
garden. Clear a space in your garden that will get plenty of sun in the spring
and summer and that has good access to a hose spigot. Arrange the bales in a row and leave the strings tied around
them. Scoop the straw out from the
center of each bale and add it to your compost pile. Fill in the cavity with a high quality, organic potting soil, and
you’re ready to plant. (If the bales start to fall apart, or if you want to
remove the string that holds them together, you can wrap chicken wire around
the exterior of the bales for extra support.)

Remember that the bales can dry out
easily in warm weather, so use drip irrigation to make sure that the plants
stay moist. At the end of the season,
the remnants of the vegetable garden, along with the rice straw, can all go in
the compost pile. It’s an easy, no-dig,
renewable way to do raised bed gardening—and you won’t have any weeds to
contend with during the growing season. By getting the plants off the ground and starting with fresh potting
soil and new bales each year, you’re also decreasing the chances of soil-borne
diseases affecting your crops.

  Finally, my favorite winter gardening tool
has nothing to do with the gardens or the birds. It’s all about me. If you haven’t invested in a pair of Muck
Boots, now’s the time. They keep my
feet warm and dry in the garden and on walks along the beach, and they’ve lasted
through seven seasons. I wouldn’t want to get through a winter without them. (