Sue Langley

Winter gardening in our foothills

White Artemesia Powis Castle adds contrast to the evergreens.
White Artemesia Powis Castle adds contrast to the evergreens. Special to Sierra Star

It’s sunny and 70º as I write this and it’s a reminder that our December weather can be rainy, snowy or sunny with brilliant blue skies. It also means that we can still get out into the garden; we just need to don our flannel shirts and jackets in the early mornings. Here are some of the things I do in my garden in December and January:

I rake my paths. It’s amazing how simply raking pathways can neaten up the garden. Good exercise, too, for stomach muscles.

Edit your container plants. Toss faded blooms and dead plants into the compost. Fill each container with a layer of mulch to neaten them and they’ll be ready for spring planting. Put empty pots and ornaments away...clear away clutter so it will be easier to sweep windblown leaves away.

I search the garden for forgotten tools and a dropped garden glove, putting them away in the garden shed. I empty and roll up hoses and put away seat cushions, pillows and anything that will blow or become rain damaged.

Planting white foliage plants can add a ‘frosty’ look to your winter garden and add contrast to your evergreens. Artemisia, Santolina, Lamb’s ear and Curry plant all have fresh white foliage. Did you know you can plant anything in winter months in our foothills? Yes, you can. Just make sure they get regular water until our rains begin.

I prune perennials down to 4-6 inches and toss the clippings into the burn pile or I lay the dry seedheads down where I want more of that plant. It’s the lazy gardener’s way to propagate.

Mulch garden beds with pine chips. Pine chips are ideal for mulching your garden. Bark mulch can repel water, but pine chips have better water holding capacity. Mulch 2-3 inches in all your garden beds and on paths.

Generally, mulch from tree cutting firms has no weed seed! Luckily in the Oakhurst, Bass Lake and North Fork areas, small mountains of pine chips from the tree cutting are easy to access. I take a trash container and load it into my little truck. It’s what I can handle on my own to fill and lift back in, but everyone has different capabilities here. Whether a five gallon bucket or an entire truck-load, the best thing is they are good for your plants and free.

I prune fruit trees, redbuds and shrubs growing too close to oaks and pines. In winter when leaves fall, it’s easier to see where to make the right cuts. You want to thin fruit trees in the center to achieve a vase shape and cut out crossing branches.

You can plant flowers like violas, pansies, stock, ornamental kale, snapdragons, English primrose and English daisies this month. Today, I’m completely redoing my big wheelbarrow that I use as a planter, filling it with frilly, blue violas. These colorful bloomers laugh at rain and snow.

I get in the habit of turning off each water faucet I use each day. Remember, if we have not had rain in a while, you still need to water.

Plant lettuce! Lettuce and any greens or spring onions or chives can be grown in a ‘cut and come again’ garden. Sow seeds every few weeks or plant from small transplants. Enjoy fresh salad as early as possible in spring, cutting only what you need that day. Protect this garden from snow and hard frost.

I enjoy my winter bloomers. Yes, it’s true. After a walk-around this morning, these are the flowers still blooming: Autumn sage, Zinnia, Pineapple sage, Mexican marigold, Lavender, Bergenia, Monkey flower and Campanula. I even spotted a sweetly fragrant rose. Since the Autumn sage, lavender and monkey flower are still blooming, I can now state that they are four-season bloomers in our foothills.

Lastly, I clear away weeds from some garden bed areas and carefully hand sow native wildflower seeds, stepping on them to sink them slightly into the earth. I do this just before a rain is due, so I can imagine the seeds soaking into the soil to sprout, bringing signs of spring. Do enjoy your winter garden this month.

For more garden ideas, see and for questions email Sue Langley at