The promise of a brand new year gives us a chance to think ahead about our garden, yard and patio needs when the weather starts to warm again. It’s a perfect time to snuggle in and research new products and ideas, reflect on what worked well, and plan for the warmer months to come.

The flower garden

Consider the time you spent on maintenance of your blooming beds last summer. Did you have trouble keeping all your annuals watered? Were the perennials in your yard tolerant to conditions such as too much or too little water? Do you want to increase the size of your garden or minimize your workload in the coming season?

Draw up plans for increasing or decreasing the size of your flower beds, depending on the answers to these questions. Make lists of helpful tools you may want to try, such as rain barrels and soaker hoses. Use the library, seed catalogs and online resources to research new varieties of drought-tolerant and lower maintenance plants specifically bred for your area. Discover exciting new flower and bulb varieties that will make your garden the talk of the neighborhood.

Repurpose your Christmas tree and boughs by cutting off the branches and placing them over your perennial garden for insulation from the harsh winter cold. Alternate the direction of the branches, in layers, to ensure the most effective protection.

It’s not too early to start some early season blooms (such as pansies and petunias) indoors. Create ideal seed-starting conditions with soil and starter kits available on the Fleet Farm website. A grow light can also provide ideal light conditions.

If you didn’t have time to clean your hand tools last fall, it’s an ideal time to get them in pristine condition. For pruners, shears and loppers, clean the blade with steel wool. Sharpen the blades with a whetstone. Lubricate moving parts as needed. Rub wooden handles with a combination of 1/2 linseed oil and 1/2 mineral oil. Let it sit for several minutes, then wipe off. Remove dirt and sharpen shovel edges and pruning saws.

The lawn, trees and shrubs

Rather than spraying plants with a typical hose or watering can, which deliver large amounts of water in a short time, soaker hoses water plants slowly over. This is the most relaxing time of year for the lawn, because no maintenance is required. No mowing, fertilizing, raking or watering is needed.

You need to protect your grass, and minimize the damage of salt and deicers on the lawn by making sure walks and driveways are shoveled before the chemicals are applied. If you’re considering getting help for next season, this is the perfect time to research lawn care professionals and check out references and credentials.

Now is also a great time to start preparing for the spring and summer lawn seasons. Be sure to keep an eye out for and research great pre-season deals on lawn mowers or zero-turns. If you already have your power equipment for the year, be sure to prep it for the season – check the engine, replace the oil or air filters and spark plugs each season.

Walk around your yard and make note of which trees and shrubs are adding winter interest to your landscape, and consider adding more when spring planting season nears. If your trees or shrubs are covered with ice and snow, do not remove it. Doing so can cause more damage to the growth of the tree than the snow.

Check your trees for bark damage from rodents and deer, and add a protective barrier if accessing the tree is practical. This reduces water loss from over-spray and evaporation and allows the roots of the plants to access more water. These methods require less water and result in healthier plants because they keep the leaves dry. They also happen to be pretty convenient.

The vegetable garden

You’re probably dreaming of the fresh vegetables you harvested a few short months ago. Make note of what worked for you and what did not, eliminating the least productive or less popular plants.

Research some new varieties of vegetables and herbs you’d like to try. If you want to try starting plants indoors, now is the time to find space in your home to dedicate as a seed-starting area. With Fleet Farm’s grow lights and green house systems, you can get started in any room of the house. Consider heated mats to warm the soil and give your seeds a boost. Are you missing the fresh herbs from last summer’s garden? Satisfy your cravings and your itchy green thumb by growing fresh herbs right on your kitchen counter.

The patio

Many of us are probably wistfully gazing out at our snow-covered patios, remembering lazy summer days spent in the warm breezes and sipping a cool beverage. Not to worry—if your patio is constructed of pavers, concrete or brick, more than likely it was built to withstand the cold and snow of a northern winter.

If you choose to remove the snow by shoveling, we recommend a plastic shovel to reduce the damage metal can cause on the patio surface. While shoveling, take care when using salt or chemical deicers on the area. Even though some may specify they’re “concrete-safe”, these products may be harmful to your lawn, trees, flowers and shrubs.

A deicer containing Magnesium Chloride will provide less harm to your vegetation than regular rock salt. Another alternative is to sprinkle some kitty litter on the area. It won’t melt the ice, but it will provide traction and won’t damage your landscape.

Use helpful resources

There are many online resources to help both new and established gardeners. Fleet Farm’s Garden Center contains a library of useful knowledge and product ideas.

Both the University of Wisconsin Extension Office and the University of Minnesota Extension offer a treasure trove of free and informative articles, on any gardening subject, specifically appropriate to this growing zone.

Visit your public library and bookstore. And don’t forget to network with fellow gardeners and friends. Often, they’re your best source of tips and time-saving ideas. If your area has a winter Farmer’s Market, a visit there will satisfy your cravings for fresh produce until spring, plus you’ll gather ideas for things you may want to try in your garden.

May you enjoy a green, growing and a happy new year!