Winter in Nebraska is when gardeners and their gardens traditionally take a break. It is a time to rejuvenate and get ready to burst forth in the spring.
But sometimes gardeners get anxious. They need something to feed their green and grow habit during the short days and cold temperatures.
It helps that the temperatures have been milder than normal this winter. If that isn't enough, here are some ways to keep you sane until the frost date.
Read garden books
Here are some new garden books that may help guide you through the next planting season.
* "Planting the Dry Shade Garden" by Graham Rice (Timber Press, $24.95) -- For everyone who has dark corners that are impossible to water, there are options. Rice highlights more than 100 of those and offers ways to amend soil to increase moisture retention.
* Decoding Gardening Advice" by Jeff Gillman, Meleah Maynard (Timber Press, $16.95) -- In this book, science, not folklore, determines whether a gardening recommendation is a good one or not. The authors debunk the myths and back up the info with facts.
* "Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens" by Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden (Timber Press, $24.95) -- With so much emphasis on water restrictions, the authors focus on low-water plants. They find more than 200, from perennials to bulbs, which will thrive in those conditions. Lots of good photos to tempt you.
* "The Fruit Gardener's Bible" by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry (Storey Press, $24.95) -- Fruit growing still is secondary to vegetables in most people's gardens, but if you are into fruit, this book will give you lots of info on diseases, edible landscapes and pruning. It is a good how-to book if you are just starting in this area.
Join a garden club
The Lincoln Garden Club, which meets the second Monday of each month at Culler Middle School, 52nd and Vine streets, usually has a speaker and is a good place to meet fellow gardeners.
A new orchid club, Meeting of Orchid Friends or MOOF, meets the second Wednesday of each month at Hy-Vee, 5010 O St., in the dining area. A social time begins at 6:30 p.m. with supper (each person pays his or her own expenses), with the meeting starting at 7 p.m. This month's program is "Drying Orchid Flowers" by Greg Arp. He will share a new technique using an unconventional material to dry flowers.
For $10, you can register for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension lawn and garden programs this spring. They are open to the public and are part of UNL Extension's Master Gardener training program.
Dates, subjects and presenters are:
* Feb.14 -- "Vegetables: Growing and Pest Control," presented by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension educator -- Learn about the growth and production of various vegetable crops in the garden, while comparing various pest control measures for effective control. This class will discuss how plant selection, growing environment, production levels and pest control are dependent on each other throughout the growing season.
* Feb. 21 -- "Plant I.D. and Plant Diagnostics," presented by Kelly Feehan, Platte County Extension educator, and Natalia Bjorklund, Dodge County Extension educator -- What is that mystery plant? What is wrong with this plant? Participants will learn basic skills to identify properly plant material and plant problems.
* Feb. 28 -- "Tree Problems: Environmental and Pests," presented by Graham Herbst, community forest specialist, Nebraska Forest Service -- Tree problems can be caused by environmental, mechanical, disease and/or insect issues. Learn how these factors affect the health and quality of trees in the landscape and how to manage them.
* March 6 -- "Herbaceous Perennial Management," presented by Kim Todd, landscape design professor and specialist, UNL -- Expand your plant expertise by correctly choosing, using and growing herbaceous perennial plants as a returning feature of landscapes. Integrate site selection, soil preparation, plant selection, fertility needs, plant division and pest management skills to further use these plants in a variety of landscape conditions.
*March 13 -- "Soils and Soil Management," presented by Brad Jakubowski, environmental and earth sciences adjunct faculty, Doane College -- Soil properties and their characteristics greatly influence the success of plant growth and vigor in the landscape. Participants will learn about the characteristics of soil properties, textures, water retention and nutrient binding to better understand how to prepare and amend soil for optimum plant material growth.
* March 20 -- "Weed Management Basics," presented by Lowell Sandell, Extension educator, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, UNL -- Weed management and control are constant chores in the landscape. Learn about various types of weeds in the landscape, their growing habits and how to integrate cultural, mechanical and chemical control measures.
All programs are from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in Room 150, Keim Hall on UNL's East Campus. For more information, call 402-472-8973 or visit mastergardener.unl.edu. Spaces are limited.
Design or redesign your garden
Whether you are starting from scratch or just tweaking a garden design, winter is a great time to review what you like and don't like about your space.
Here are some ideas from Fine Gardening magazine.
* Paths and steps -- Make sure your path is wide enough for you and your wheelbarrow -- 5 feet is best, but at least 3 feet. Steps should ascend gently and have a rise of no more than 6 inches.
* Plan for growth -- Give your plants plenty of room to grow. If you can't stand the skimpy look, know you will have to relocate plants very soon. Consider planting short-lived "filler" plants to make your garden look fuller. Keep tall plants away from the walkway and patio edge and thorny plants away from high traffic.
* Look beyond the bloom -- Consider foliage, fruit and bark for year-round garden viewing. Autumn's turning leaves can put on as much of a show as a yard full of flowers.
* Plan when laying down infrastructure -- Electrical outlets and irrigation may not be needed in certain spaces right not, but lay the groundwork when you are planning. Wiring and plumbing are easier to install when things are torn up. The same goes for paths. Always check on water, gas and other underground utilities and city codes.
* Think of your neighbors -- If you are making major changes, check with your neighbors. If you are adding or removing a large tree or changing their view with a large patio, it is the right thing to do.
Force bulbs for some indoor blooms
For those gardeners who can't resist getting their hands dirty, even during the winter, here are some bulb-forcing tips from Barb Pierson of White Flower Farm.
Barb's top tip for success is to choose your bulbs carefully. "Not all bulbs are appropriate for forcing indoors. Many bulbs require a period of cold temperatures to produce blooms. If you are going to force bulbs indoors, be sure they are meant to be planted indoors and have been chilled for the appropriate amount of time before you start."
Here are her three favorite bulbs to force indoors:
* Paperwhite Narcissus -- Paperwhites are the all-time favorite bulb for indoor forcing and require little more than to be potted and watered to produce clusters of fragrant blooms in four to six weeks. They will grow happily and bloom with nothing more than water and stones in a glass vase, or they can be planted in potting mix. If you start your plantings at two- to four-week intervals, you can keep the show running all winter.
* Amaryllis -- Amaryllis bulbs also are easy to grow, requiring only room temperatures, regular watering and bright light to deliver their spectacular performance. The process takes about eight to 10 weeks.
* Lily of the Valley -- This handsome little plant is as reliable indoors as it is in the garden. When planted, it grows quickly and blooms in three weeks, transforming any room with its sweet scent. If kept growing through the winter, the pips may be transplanted to a shady spot in the garden in late spring and will repeat their sweet-scented performance for many years.