Question: Are there any winter gardening tasks that I may be overlooking?
Answer: A mild winter day is the perfect time to stroll through the garden and decide if changes or improvements are needed for the upcoming growing season. If you use raised beds, check to see if some tightening up of the frames is needed. An inventory of your gardening tools and their condition should be evaluated. It is also a wonderful time to take a nature walk and find there still is much activity to be discovered.
Resist the urge to go out and start pruning. Early winter pruning can reduce your plants winter hardiness. The late dormant season is best for most pruning. Pruning in late winter just before growth starts leaves the fresh cut exposed to the cold temperatures for the shortest time before growth resumes and the wound sealing occurs. Pruning is easier at this time of year because the shape of the plant is obvious without the leaves obscuring the branch structure. Proper timing will help your plants avoid certain diseases and problems.
Now is a great time to service your lawn mower and sharpen your gardening tools. Your mower should be drained of gasoline, as unused gasoline left in the mower will degrade and cause problems when you start it up in spring. Oil and air filters should be changed as well. Mower blades can be sent out for sharpening along with your favorite pruners. Dull blades shred your lawn and make it more susceptible to disease.
After all the chores are done, it is time to explore. If you love listening to the birds in spring you may find it fun to learn how to identify birds by their tracks. Bird tracks are easily confused with small critters, except bird tracks don't end at holes or trees and they are longer and thinner. They just end when the bird flies away. A nature guide can help distinguish most of the small and medium common birds.
A walk through the woods will lead you to the wondrous world of mushrooms growing on dead logs and rotting stumps. Some of the most interesting types of fungus belong to a group called shelf or bracket fungi. They are semicircular and extremely tough, growing in clusters on top of each other covering complete sides of trees. They may be several years old, with old layers being covered by new ones. One of the largest shelf fungi weighed in at 300 pounds. The shelves form a microhabitat for spiders, mites and insects.
Lastly, try to identify some common trees by looking at their buds, bark, branching or leaf scars. Even though their appearance may lead you to think of them as dead, they are carefully calculating changes in light, temperature and chemicals in their cells, waiting for the right moment to unfurl the developing leaves and flowers.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: