Winter may seem dark, grey, and cold but that doesn’t mean your garden has to look that way. There are still plenty of gardening projects you can do this winter in New Jersey that will keep you busy and get your garden in great shape for next season.

It’s not too late to plant garlic for a beautiful summer harvest, and spring bulbs for those pops of color, in the ground now because the fall has been warm. That means the soil is still warm, said Lauren Errickson, Director of Rutgers Gardens and Campus Stewardship at Rutgers University.

Unless you already have winter plants in the ground like Winter Jasmine, Snowdrop, Christmas Rose, and more, Errickson does not suggest planting flowers and shrubs in the ground now. The days are not long enough so there is not enough light.

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What can gardeners do this winter in NJ?

Instead of planting, do some planning, Errickson said. Look through seed catalogs, look online and visit local nurseries that are open all year long. Peruse their seed collection.
“November and December is a great time to start buying some seeds especially to ensure that you’re able to get particular kinds that you really want,” she said.

If New Jersey gardeners want to get a head start, they can plant seeds indoors. Just be sure to provide enough light, Errickson said. February is a perfect time to do this project. Set the lights very close to the seeds. As the plants grow, raise the lights with the plants so they stay healthy and grow sturdy stalks.

The camellia tree is a small tree, a large shrub that blooms in March. This is a nice plant to incorporate into the landscape for early color.

Spring bulbs can be planted now such as daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, she said.

For winter color, some native New Jersey shrubs have beautiful bark. Thinking ahead to next year, putting into the ground like Red-osier or dogwood. They have beautiful bright red bark and red stalks.

“Something like Nine Bark has really nice coloration to the bark. So, different things can be incorporated into the landscape that even after they lose their leaves, they do retain some winter interest,” Errickson said.

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Can we plant Christmas holly and poinsettias in New Jersey?

Yes. There are holly trees that grow in the Garden State but Errickson said they are very large trees. So, unless you have the space for a decent size tree, holly is not always the best choice for smaller yards. Ideally, plant holly in the early spring, she said.

Check out local nurseries for poinsettia plants. There are many growers in New jersey that raise poinsettias in their greenhouses and have them available at local stores for people to buy for the holidays. Asking for New Jersey-grown or raised poinsettias would be a great way to encourage that and help the local economy, Errickson said.


How can NJ gardeners prepare their outdoor gardens this winter?

If you have enough garden space outdoors, build a cold frame structure that is like a mini greenhouse. Errickson said to set the cold frame over the garden beds which will warm up the soil sooner.

“Instead of waiting for the soil outdoors to warm up in March, April, sometimes May, to start seeding then, if you have a cold frame, you can start seeding lettuce, radishes, maybe even some beets or carrots as soon as the days get longer like in February,” Errickson said. Spinach, arugula, and baby kale are also some great additions.

Remove any annual plants from the previous season from the garden. These include cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash, she said. If they are healthy, incorporate them into the compost.

But if they are diseased, throw them into the trash.

“If there are diseased organisms on the plant, we don’t want to put them into the compost and then reapply that compost to the garden because it can set up a disease problem for next year,” Errickson said.

Think about crop rotation when planning your garden, but only if you have the space, she said. To minimize disease from one year to the next, think about moving tomato plants from one spot to enough spot. This will reduce the risk that any diseased organisms that did end up in the soil would cause a problem for those plants in the year ahead.

Winter is a great time for pruning trees and shrubs. Errickson said the best time to prune is when woody plants are dormant. That’s usually in late January and early February. Prune fruit trees and ornamental trees and shrubs, if you have them.

Winter is also the ideal time to visit other public gardens that are open all year round to get ideas for next year.

Brainstorm and plan your garden this winter.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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