The Buzz

What does Horticulture DO in Winter????

So. I was talking to an acquaintance the other day, and she said something about me being bored at work.  I didn’t understand this statement and asked for more details, thinking I had missed something in our conversation. She said, “You know, with nothing to do.”  I was still at a loss and said so. She continued, “It’s winter. You don’t have anything to do, it must be nice.”  I nearly choked trying not to laugh and offend her.What do we do in the winter?  For non-plant people, I guess this is an appropriate question.    

Here is the answer:

We plant trees and shrubs. Weekly, sometimes daily, we rake leaves, blow leaves, and pluck the leaves out of the boxwoods (then we do it again!)

We plant the winter seasonal plants such as Digitalis (Foxglove), Bellis (English Lawn Daisy), and bulbs for early spring blooms (Jonquils, Tulipa, Muscari etc.) We pick up the fallen limbs and place them into the compost – sometimes it may be an entire tree, which then requires cutting it into pieces as firewood for campfire parties in My Big Backyard, or smaller pieces are shredded and used as mulch. We clean the dried seeds we have collected over the season and prepare them for seed swaps and new plantings/replantings. We plant other seeds as necessary. We check plant catalogs and make our purchases for the upcoming spring – then figure out where to store them until planting/sale-time. We plant and pot up plants for our Winter (February 7 and 8, 2014) and Spring (April 11 and 12, 2014) plant sales – also to replace plants in the garden beds (my garden responsibility is the Herb Garden, so I might start various mints growing for the sales). We pull up tree seedlings (over and over and over again); the Mid-south is an area that once was mostly woodland. This area wants to be wooded!  Tree seedlings such as oaks germinate readily and grow super fast in the competition for sun and space. We groom our areas, cutting back plants that have died and gone dormant. When it is warm enough we deal with the fire ant mounds that have erupted on another warmish day.  We decorate for Christmas. We take down the decorations for Christmas. When it is not raining, we weed. Weeds in the winter? Weeds grow when it is cold???


Weeds are seasonal, if you didn’t know. There are fall, winter, spring, and summer weeds – some such as chickweed can be year ‘round, with spring and fall being the worst. Weeding never, ever, stops. There are plant signs to be engraved and placed/replaced in the gardens.  Fencing and other barriers often need overhauling. On rainy days, we descend on the greenhouses where we groom and weed and shift plants into larger pots if needed. We do those projects that we say we will do on a rainy day… We work on our plant databases, adding new plants, removing those that were a good idea, but that don’t really want to grow here in Memphis, tweaking notes and making new ones. We clean the Horticulture Building. We fix irrigation where someone not familiar with the garden has driven over and broken lines, heads, boxes, etc. We work on below freezing days wearing long johns, thermals, quilted cover-alls, scarves, hats, and whatever else we can wrap up in. We should have stock in Hot-Hands (activate and place them on top of the backs of your hands in your gloves and place them on the front of your feet in front of the ankles – this warms the blood going into fingers and toes and helps!). We still turn into humansicles and stumble into the Hort Building with frozen fingers and toes and runny noses – just to thaw out and go back again. For what? Go back to the first line! This is not all, but is an idea for you folks who wonder what we do in the winter: it never ends! The days are never long enough for any of us here in Horticulture at the Memphis Botanic Garden. 

Never fear though, we are never bored!

Posted by sherri mccalla at 9:21 AM


12/11/2013 at 06:45 AM by Deb Wiles

Well said! I get the, "What do you do in winter?" question all the time. Many people who aren't gardeners (or who garden in a more hospitable climate) don't realize just how much there is to do out there. Thank you for setting the record straight! (I'm now off to de-ice the walkways and check for broken tree limbs after getting almost 6-inches of snow yesterday!) Deb Wiles Director of Horticulture at Reeves-Reed Arboretum, Summit, NJ

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