Gardening guru provides answers to your winter gardening questions

The winter dormant season does not mean you need to stop gardening. There are houseplants, winter pruning and dormant spraying to be done. Plus this week is the perfect time to force flowering shrubs into early bloom.

Here are answers to your winter gardening questions.

Q. I used to live in a house with a giant forsythia bush and not only did I look forward to the yellow blooms every February, but I also had the tradition – that I think I learned from your column — of cutting branches from my forsythia in January to force into early bloom indoors. I do see my new neighbor has a forsythia bush at her house. So my question is this – can I just go over and prune off some branches to force and tell her that pruning your forsythia right now is a good idea? Maybe if you suggested this idea in your column she would see it and believe me. — J.K., Buckley

A. Yes, January is a good time to prune whips or long branches from forsythia shrubs or to thin out older, thicker stems from inside a mature shrub by cutting them back to ground level. When

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Here are some great gardening newsletters for your winter reading list

I get way too many garden-related emails. I must be on almost every single list. Among those are a number of newsletters. During the course of a year, lots of these pop up in my email. I usually read and then delete, but often there is something worth keeping so I just copy and store it in a word processing file.

For example, I started getting a newsletter from High Mowing Organic Seeds a while back. This one caught my eye because I may have spent a summer with a relative of the founder when I was a kid. However, it kept my attention because it depicts a lifestyle many of us support: building a greener, more just and community-supported world, one seed at a time. Everything they write about is organic and they have a great catalog, too.

Then there is the newsletter from an organization called the National Gardening Association ( This group bills itself as the largest social network for gardeners. They issue a free newsletter, full of useful articles on — duh! — gardening. From orchids to fuchsia care, these are often “print out” keepers or get copied and put into my files.

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Terrarium a great way to add plants to indoor landscape

If you are feeling the winter doldrums this year even more than before, you are not alone. With the holidays behind us and the pandemic still with us, it’s not easy staying upbeat.

a man sitting in front of a window: Mike Hogan

Mike Hogan

But there are simple ways to help boost your spirits, such as by adding eye-catching plants to an indoor space to provide a little extra comfort.

Consider building a terrarium: Many different sizes and types of containers can be used, from an old pickle jar you might have in the basement to a vintage vase or antique container. Really, any clear glass or plastic vessel will work, as long as it has an opening wide enough to accommodate your hand.

You can even choose containers that match the decor of the room you wish to spruce up, and then complete the terrarium with small accent pieces or even heirloom items that will complement the decor as well.

Design features of terrariums can complement the decor of any room in the house.

© Unsplash
Design features of terrariums can complement the decor of any room in the house.

Making your own terrarium is easy and can be a great indoor-gardening activity for all family members, with each person choosing the type of container, plants and decorative items

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Academic says GARDENING has its roots in racial injustice

We are living in stressful times: no wonder so many of us have taken refuge in our gardens and in the quiet corners of our potting sheds.

Can there be a more harmless, innocent diversion than gardening? We all know it’s good for body and soul and our mental health.

But the green-fingered ranks of Britain’s gardeners are in for a shock — according to a new book, by pruning our roses or digging the vegetable patches, we are all somehow perpetuating the evils of racism.

Last week Corinne Fowler, Professor of Post-Colonial Literature at the University of Leicester, published a sprawling 316-page work examining the links between the British countryside, racism, slavery and our colonial past.

Among her startling conclusions? Our cherished national pastime, gardening, has its roots in racial injustice.

Should we be surprised? Perhaps not. The book’s title, Green Unpleasant Land, gives us an indication of Professor Fowler’s thoughts on the countryside.

One might expect her writings to be consigned to academic obscurity. But her views on rural Britain are in fact very influential.

For she is at the centre of the ‘culture war’ that has overwhelmed one of Britain’s largest and best-loved charities, the National Trust.

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Help plants survive winter weather

If you’re like me, you buy new perennials, trees and shrubs every year. Most plants sold locally are hardy, but not all. It’s good to know the “zone hardiness” of plants before you buy them, and how the zone maps work. In a nutshell, the colder the climatic zone, the lower the number.

a green plant in a garden: Blue Moon wisteria blooms on new wood, so it's not bothered by cold winters.

© Henry Homeyer
Blue Moon wisteria blooms on new wood, so it’s not bothered by cold winters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created maps showing the climatic zones of all states and regions. They are based on many years of temperature records, and each zone is rated according to the coldest average temperatures. Summer temperatures are not considered in creating the hardiness zones.

Each zone covers a 10-degree range of temperatures. The coldest zone in New England is Zone 3, which includes places where temperatures range between 40 and 30 degrees below zero each winter. Some maps include an “a” and “b” designation to further describe the zones. An “a” is 5 degrees colder than a “b”. So Zone 4a is minus 25 to minus 30, and 4b is minus 20 to minus 25.

Trees and perennial plants that survive in Zone 4 — which includes

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