A Brooklyn garden. (Photo by Jen Carlson/Gothamist)

Seems like just yesterday we were looking at summer garden tips, yet here we are, a few days after our first snow of the season, and delivering you some green thumb tips for the winter. Below, Robin Simmen, the director of GreenBridge (Brooklyn Botanic Garden's community horticulture program) tells us what to do with our urban gardens now that the cold has arrived, and what we can grow inside of our apartments. Simmen runs the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest each year, so she knows what she's talking about!


  • A long winter’s nap is always more refreshing when the bed is ready for you. The same holds true for garden beds. Now is the time to tidy them up, add nutrients to the soil, pull some plants out, and plant bulbs for springtime flowers so they are fresh and ready for you next year.
  • Take time now to remove entirely any diseased plants from the garden in order to reduce the chance of disease returning next year. Don’t compost these plants; throw them away. Note what grew well and what didn’t so you can use this experience when you plan your garden for next year. Remove any wire plant supports and cages so they don’t become hazards in the snow.
  • Mulch your cleaned up beds with chopped leaves and wood chips to protect the soil from erosion during winter storms and to feed it with organic material as the mulch breaks down. Fall is a great time to add compost and other soil amendments to your garden beds as they’ll have all winter long to decompose and enrich the soil. Compost made from foods scraps, manure, and raked leaves is ideal to apply to garden beds now.
  • Consider planting some bulbs for spring blossoms. Squirrels love tulip bulbs, so plant daffodils and crocuses if squirrels have been a problem. Use bone meal and blood meal to enhance the bulbs growth and survival rate.
  • While the snow flies, spend time looking through seed catalogs and planning your garden next year. Clean and sharpen your garden tools so you can jump right into spring clean up as soon as your garden wakes up and starts growing again.

  • Annuals, or plants that live for only one season, die naturally after frost. Consider chopping these up and adding them to your compost pile or spreading them on your garden as nutritious mulch to enrich the soil. Or just leave where they are to melt into the earth.
  • Stop watering deciduous plants (their leaves fall off) but continue to water evergreen plants (their leaves or needles stay green all winter) as long as it’s above freezing. Evergreens continue to grow all winter and need water to survive, while deciduous plants go dormant above ground and don’t need extra water.
  • Perennials, or plants that grow deep roots and return to life year after year, should survive the winter if they are healthy, especially if they are species native to our cold climate. Some tender perennials, like rose bushes and rosemary, benefit from insulation like heaps of leaves packed around them. Containers planted with perennials may also benefit from being wrapped in blankets or bales of hay to protect plant roots from freezing temperatures above ground.



  • Consider bringing some of your herbs indoors to grow on southern-facing window sills, or plant seedlings in pots. Rosemary, thyme, and basil will flourish indoors if they have enough natural light and don’t get too warm or dry inside. Try transplanting or buying a potted coleus, geranium, and begonia, too, to see if you can grow them indoors to be ready to go into the garden again next summer.
  • Other recommendations: for low light, the Bird's Nest Fern (ASPLENIUM NIDUS). And the Cast-Iron Plant (ASPIDISTRA ELATIOR) is basically indestructible in apartments!