12 Gardening Tasks for the Off-Season

Even if your winter weather is frightful, there's still a lot of gardening you can do, inside and outside.

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Those gardeners who lock their sheds and hang up their tools until spring are missing out on a great season to garden — winter. There’s still lots to do, indoors and out.

Winter gives me time for one of my favorite things — sorting all my seeds and deciding what to plant in the spring. I browse through seed catalogs and scroll through websites, looking at all the new and old varieties. When the first seed display shows up at the store, I’m drawn to it like a magnet to steel.

Here are 12 ideas for what to do with your idle gardening hands in the wintertime.

Start a Garden Journal

Take stock of your garden and start writing about it in a journal. Many garden journals are filled with prompts to help you decide what to write about.

Grow Food Indoors

Seedlings planted in potsJordan Lye/Getty Images

Sean and Allison McManus, authors of The First-Time Gardener: Growing Plants and Flowers, recommend growing food indoors during the winter. You can start with microgreens (for which this microgreens growing kit might come in handy), or consider edible plants with a hydroponic system.

Organize Your Seeds and Place Orders for More Seeds

Have you accumulated a big pile of seeds? The McManuses suggest sorting through them all.

When stored properly, many flower and vegetable seeds remain viable for several years. Toss old packets and make a list of seeds to buy for spring. Buy or order your seeds as soon as possible to avoid finding a “sold out” banner across the picture of that one tomato variety you planned to make the centerpiece of your garden.

Get Rid of Unused Pesticides

Wintertime is also a good time to clear out pesticides you no longer plan to use. And be sure to dispose of them properly!

Many counties and cities specify days and locations where you can drop off unwanted chemicals. During winter months, they’re often less busy than in spring and fall when everyone’s cleaning out their garage.

Clean, Sharpen and Organize Your Tools

Garden tools against shed wallnatalie_board/Getty Images

The best time to clean and sharpen any tool is right after you use it. The next best time is the off-season.

If your gardening tools are scattered all over, round them up and give them a home base. Doing that, and painting wood handles with bright colors that will stand out in the garden, should help you avoid losing too many tools.

When cleaning your tools, don’t be timid about sharpening pruners and clippers. It’s a skill you can easily learn. Buy replacements for broken tools that can’t be repaired.

Tend Houseplants

woman grows tropical plantsdeniskomarov/Getty Images

Winter is the perfect time to tend houseplants. Check them regularly for signs of insect pests and make sure they’re getting enough water. If they look dusty, give them a good rinse in the shower.

Treat yourself to a few new houseplants, too. Many garden centers are well-stocked all winter long. Go on days when temperatures are above freezing, or bundle up your new houseplant in several bags and park close to the door so you don’t expose it to frigid temps.

Design a New Garden

Whether you do it yourself or with the help of a professional, winter is the perfect time to design garden renovations or a whole new garden. Find gardeners you like on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok for inspiration.

Get Estimates for Big Projects

If your garden plans call for big-ticket items like a potting shed or new fence, start researching contractors. Ask for recommendations from your gardening community and read online reviews. Then contact several contractors for estimates. They may want to wait until spring, but you’ll have made that important initial contact.

Join a Local Garden Club or Master Gardeners Group

Winter is a great time to join a local garden club. If you aren’t sure if there’s one in your area, check the listings maintained by National Garden Clubs. To learn more about gardening, check out your state’s Master Gardener program. Classes are offered throughout the year.

Visit a Local Botanical Garden or Plant Conservatory

Woman Standing In GreenhouseOle Spata/Getty Images

If you live near a botanical garden or plant conservatory, it’s fun to visit them in winter. When the snow is flying, one of the nicest places to be is inside a conservatory filled with tropical plants. The scent of leaf mold and soil will get you excited for warm weather in your own garden.

Weed Your Garden

According to Tasha Greer, author of Weed-Free Gardening: A Comprehensive and Organic Approach to Weed Management, weed-proof your garden in the winter.

If it doesn’t snow where you live, rake up small weed seedlings and expose their roots to cold temperatures or sunlight so they don’t re-root. You can also deprive them of sunlight by covering them with cardboard, topped by layers of leaves, wood chips or mulch.

Walk Through Your Garden

Don’t stay inside all winter. When weather permits, walk through your garden and look for signs of trouble so you can address them right away.

Plants heaving out of the soil? Gently push them back in. Signs of rabbits or rodents gnawing on young trees and shrubs? Create a chicken wire barrier to protect those plants. Forgot to mulch your strawberries? Do it as soon as possible. Branches broken on trees? Prune them when you see them.

You get the idea. Even in the winter, there’s always something you can do in or for your garden.

Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.