How to maintain a gardening hobby during the winter

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published February 11, 2020

 Experts say that vegetables, such as the flowering kale and tomatoes pictured, can start to go in the ground around St. Patrick’s Day, as the weather usually warms up enough to allow them to grow.

Experts say that vegetables, such as the flowering kale and tomatoes pictured, can start to go in the ground around St. Patrick’s Day, as the weather usually warms up enough to allow them to grow.

Photos provided by Karl Eckert

METRO DETROIT — The cold of winter may be gripping Michigan, but that’s no reason that gardening enthusiasts can’t keep up their hobby or get a head start on the spring.

Gardeners can explore different options to keep their thumbs green, including planting indoors, transplanting plants to pots, or even planting certain vegetation in the late fall that will bloom in the spring.

Ivy Schwartz, of the Shelby Gardeners Club, looks for plants that can easily survive indoors and require less care during the winter.

“A lot of people bring outside plants inside and use grow lights to save them and keep them going,” she explained. “You can just have some tropical plants that you can bring in and then put them back outside in the spring. Many that are weather-sensitive can be moved inside and outside. There are succulents, which can be kept inside all year around. These are similar to cacti, so they are very hardy. They just need a lot of sun, but otherwise they are very low maintenance because they require little water or special attention.”

Karl Eckert, the owner of Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights, said that having some grow lights can allow almost anything to grow indoors. Those without such lights can still place many plants near windows so that they get natural light. The only caveat is that they need to be kept warm as well.

“A lot of folks have grow lights for indoor growing,” he said. “With those lights, you can grow all year-round. You can also grow some plants on window frames if they have good sun exposure. Herbs, especially, are good with this. They’re pretty easy to grow and don’t require too much light.”

Some flowers can be planted in the autumn and will bloom in the spring, giving gardeners a head start on the season by having flowers sprout as soon as the weather warms.

“I like to invest in spring bulbs, which are great because they often get some great color,” Schwartz said. “You can plant things like crocus and snowdrop at the end of the season; they grow under the ground in the winter, and then they can bloom in the spring.”

“There’s some pansies that you can plant in the fall and will bloom in the spring, so long as the soil doesn’t freeze. Violets also are good for that,” Eckert added. “They’re surprisingly resilient, and it gives you a nice bloom in the early spring.”

Those who want to jump into spring this year are advised to begin looking for what they want to plant once March rolls around.

“There also are some early spring bloomers, such as Lenten rose, that you can put in as early as March, so long as the ground is soft,” Schwartz said. “Invest in plants that bring you some color early in the year, and they will brighten up your home and your life.”

Eckert said St. Patrick’s Day is usually when he begins to think about putting seeds in the ground. He warns gardeners to keep an eye on the weather, though, since Michigan is well known to have late-season snows and cold snaps.

“February is a little early for growing early, but by March you can start looking at vegetables,” he said. “We usually start selling those around St. Patrick’s Day. If you plant too early, and things stay cruddy for longer than expected, it can hurt your efforts, but that’s usually a good time to start looking at planting your first seeds.”

Schwartz also said there are affordable ways to upcycle plants and flowers to brighten up the home during the dreariness of winter.

“I, for example, take poinsettias donated to the local church and bring them into my house so they don’t just get thrown away after Christmas,” she said. “They don’t flower anymore, but they still are leafy for quite a while.”

Eckert added that having plants in the home can provide more benefits than just adding some color.

“Foliage plants or tropicals are great ways to clean the air in the home,” he said. “They also make a house look better, and then they can be put outside when it warms up, if you put them in a shadier area.”

Both advised to ask local professionals about the intricacies of planting both indoors and outdoors, as the two can require different steps and precautions on behalf of the gardener.

“Indoor planting can create a challenge for folks,” Eckert remarked. “They are excited about the upcoming spring, so just pace yourself, don’t put things out too early, and if you plant indoors, make sure you are fertilizing and picking the right kind of soil for inside the house and for that particular kind of plant. Talk to a professional at a nursery, and they can point you in the right direction for what you want to use.”

Schwartz also suggested looking for talks or demonstrations at local greenhouses or local public institutions, like libraries, which might host experts providing advice.

“Contact your local nurseries,” she said. “A lot of them have workshops or lectures in the spring on advice for gardeners. You can learn what to plant, how to care for them and when to plant.”