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Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s a relief to direct our energy inward for a little while and focus on some new projects. Winter is such a great time to make plans for the future. You can gather the courage to put those gardening lessons learned last summer into practice. Don’t forget that the month of January is named for Janus, an ancient Etruscan god of the doorway. Though one face looks to the future, the other is contemplating the past.

We really wish that we’d have some snow! As annoying as shoveling driveways and sidewalks can be, it’s good to remember what a precious resource snow can be. It’s a valued friend of every gardener, performing the priceless service of protecting the ground from mid-winter’s drastic temperature fluctuations. This helps to retain the moisture that our plants will be frantic for in early spring.

The short range temperature predictions look pretty chilly, so you might be waiting a few weeks to tackle any pruning jobs. When you’re ready, remove any branches that are too low or impeding walkways and regular paths, those that have been damaged by storms and any that are rubbing against each other. If you have fruit trees, also prune out the obvious water sprouts. These vigorous, vertically growing branches usually don’t flower or fruit. And since you have those shears handy remove any suckers coming from the roots as well.

Before you put your tools away, remember that this is an excellent time to take an inventory of their condition. Your local hardware store can sharpen mower blades and shovels, and you can clean your trowels and pruning shears. Try keeping your small digging tools in a bucket of sand mixed with a bit of machine oil. Every time you put them away, the blades are cleaned and sharpened. Clean, sharp tools will certainly make your gardening chores less chore-like. They’re safer to use, too.

Have you been using salt to control those slippery surfaces? Please monitor any salt damage to your plants. Consider replacing sensitive plants with more salt tolerant species in areas where application tends to be heavy. Remember too, that there are de-icing products available that are kinder and gentler to your plants, as well as pets and wildlife. They tend to be pricier than salt, but you can use them in combination with other methods, like sand which provides excellent traction. If you do use salt, remember to flush the areas thoroughly with water as soon as the ground begins to thaw in late March or early April.

Once you’ve finished your mid-winter gardening tasks, take a walk around your block and check out what is looking good in your neighborhood. Landscapes that rely solely on perennials and flowering shrubs can look a bit forlorn in the winter. Find out what shrubs and trees your friends are using to add winter interest to their gardens.  Afterward, settle in by the fireplace with a couple of new gardening books, winter plant catalogs or current magazines. You’ll find plenty of inspiration for spring projects, striking plant combinations and design ideas. And you have the rest of the winter to plan!