Gardening through the seasons: What to do in winter

Winter has arrived.

Here’s the latest quarterly column, “Gardening through the Seasons,” by Edmonds Master Gardener Barbara Chase.

When the snow arrived right before Christmas, we knew winter was here. It seemed such a short time since the Japanese maples were showing off their bright fall color.

Then it happened. The temperature plunged and heavy patches of snow covered the vine maples and other shrubs and trees. Five fat and cheery robins arrived right outside my window. They seemed to be having fun but would not stay long enough on any branch so I could capture them on camera.

A robin hidden in the snow.

However, winter in the Northwest rarely has snow that stays around but can certainly inconvenience while it lasts. The hills add to the imperfect driving conditions. The beauty makes up for the trouble.

Gardeners wonder what they should be doing. It doesn’t seem like the time to be digging and trimming but any time is fine to cut off stray or dead branches. Because deciduous plants have lost all their leaves it is a good time to trim. Avoid trimming evergreen spring-blooming plants. Rhododendrons. for instance, need to be trimmed right after blooming in the spring, not before.

If you have the difficult Ivy and Wisteria plants, be sure to trim them off before or at the beginning of winter. Otherwise, the roots/tendrils will harden off and really grab hold in the spring.

Are there any plants that are good for winter cuttings? Not that many, but here are a few: ajuga, aubretia, caryopteris, clerodendron, cryptomeria, fatsia, hardy hibiscus, lamium, mint, pyracantha, sedum, Vinca, viola.

Winter is also a good time to plant seeds inside so you can plant outside in early spring. Sweet peas and basil are two of the plants quite successful in that effort.

Vine maple, sword fern and hemlock.

Winter beauty is more subtle. As deciduous trees drop their leaves, beautiful ferns and other attractive natives such as mahonia ( Oregon grape) appear. The silver grey bark of vine maple is more prominent and attractive. It is also a good time to see the shape of the tree and decide which branches need to be removed. Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is a handsome evergreen tree with strawberry-like berries, which the birds eat. Depending on the soil it can be from 10-25 feet tall.

Strawberry tree
A red winter-blooming camellia sasanqua “Yuletide” just starting to color.

Hellebores and heuchera are other attractive winter perennials. They are beautiful and quite tough.

There is much to enjoy in our mild winter climate, which welcomes a large variety of plants for our pleasure.

— By Barbara Chase

  1. Thank you, Barbara for this informative article. I find myself just itching to continue trimming and clipping. Now I know to be more discriminate! Clearing away dead / moldy hosta leaves seems a good place to start

  2. Another informative article by Barbara. I totally envy her knowledge about all things PNW gardening and her ability to convey it. Thanks for sharing with us all.

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