JoAnne Skelly: The winter gardener

The Genoa Lane cottonwoods were shedding ice crystals on Saturday morning.

The Genoa Lane cottonwoods were shedding ice crystals on Saturday morning.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

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It may be hard to believe, but February is just around the corner. Although there are usually storms around Presidents’ weekend, some days in February are often relatively mild. I remember temperatures in the low 70s some years. And, while those warmer days are welcome, newbies to the area often think winter is over and get anxious to start gardening again. Long-time Northern Nevada gardeners know better.

I have no idea how long the two feet of snow in our yard is going to last. The weather looks like it will cold through the beginning of February with some chance of snow. I certainly am not contemplating any landscaping activities at the moment. Well, if I can find the ground and the litter from the trees, I may pick up windfall and snow-broken branches. My husband will probably wait a bit longer to sharpen the blades on all the lawnmowers. We probably won’t need them until mid- to late- April, so there is plenty of time. He always sharpens, deep cleans and oils my pruning tools in late winter, which isn’t until March. Our main activity right now seems to be snow removal. Of course, we are also trying to find the wood pile so we can reload our wood racks by the house.

For anyone yearning for a plant-related activity, try transplanting and pruning your houseplants, or buying new ones. Also, wash all the leaves on all your indoor plants or gently wipe the dust off with a soft piece of lamb’s wool. The lanolin in the wool makes the leaves shine.

Spring seed and plant catalogs have arrived and will continue to do so for the next months. I have a friend who scrutinizes her catalogs, marking all the plants she is craving for her garden and yard. Then, after a few weeks or more, she reviews the plants she thought she couldn’t live without and gets real about which will actually work and which are just pipedreams. Sometimes she just throws the catalogs in the magazine bin and forgets ordering all together.

Some websites suggest waiting to work soil until the temperatures are consistently in the 50s. I also recommend waiting for the soil to dry out somewhat so you aren’t working mud. You also might want to evaluate all your garden supplies such as fertilizer and soil amendments, tomato cages, walls-of-water and even gloves. Get what you need and you will be ready when spring really arrives.

JoAnne Skelly is the Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at


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