Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Inspiration, tips + tasks for interacting with the land during the cold season.
Every year we hear the same curious questions: what do you do over winter when there’s snow on the ground, nothing is really growing, and it’s so cold you can’t feel your fingers?
In an EarthCare practice, seasons of higher activity in the garden are balanced with seasons of rest and reflection. For us in the Mid-Atlantic bioregion, many plants in our gardens and landscapes are dormant for the winter season. This offers a perfect opportunity to shift our attention to slowing down, sinking in and enjoying the unique beauty of winter landscapes.
Part of the loveliness of winter is the vibrant splash of color from evergreen natives and winter berrying species. As you spend time outdoors, you’ll notice that birds and other wildlife depend on these species for food and shelter over winter. With natural habitat ever decreasing, native birds, insects and wildlife depend on us to garden with them in mind, and we depend on them to stick around in our space, pollinate our gardens and keep the pests in check. So, if you notice a lack of food and shelter in your landscape, take time this winter to plan for ways to build more habitat!
Opportunities to Connect + Reflect
There are so many ways to connect with the land in winter - and by definition, that’s EarthCare! Many of our mentors specifically encourage us to get outside and let our bodies build resilience in cold weather. Through that practice, we’ve collected a huge list of ways to practice EarthCare and connect with Nature in winter.
This is not a to-do list of requirements, but rather a resource for inspiration. It’s completely natural to feel resistant to going outside in cold weather. The LadyBug team often talks about how everything in us wants to hibernate for winter! So we’re here to encourage you to check back on this list whenever you feel the urge to connect with the outside world - craving a breath of fresh air, catching a warm beam of sun on a bright day, rubbing evergreen needles between your fingers and smelling the lovely seasonal scent, or anything else that gives you a little spark. Follow that instinct to get out into Nature, and she will never disappoint.
18 Ways to Practice EarthCare and Connect with Nature Over Winter
1. Start a nature journal to record observations, sketch plants, trees, insects, birds, read and take notes on local “hazards” like poisonous plants and insects you want to identify this year - whatever inspires you + connects you to your sense of wonder - write and record those things, and make it a book of nature art you can add pressed flowers and other creative items to in the spring and summer!
2. Go hiking - views are amazing with no foliage, you see a different world, and you soon realize the woods and trails are alive all winter, just in different ways!
3. Practice tree ID. Winter is a great time to learn bark styles and branching structures, plus the difference between evergreen and deciduous trees. Challenge yourself to become intimately familiar with at least one tree species this winter. We know it’s hard!
4. Protect new young trees + shrubs from browsing animals with cages or netting.
5. Remove aggressive “invasive” species, shrubs + vines now, while plants are dormant and easier to access. A few common ones that don’t play nice with our natives are: English ivy, Japanese pachysandra, knotweed, Chinese privet, burning bush, boxwood, mugwort, multi flora rose, kudzu, ailanthus (tree of heaven), and many types of honeysuckle (look for the differences between shrubs,vines and natives). Many of these are medicinal so feel free to harvest for use, but take care not to spread the seeds or rhizomes around.
6. Create habitat bundles. Learn more about building habitat for wildlife and why it’s especially important in winter: Building Habitat for Wildlife: What's in it for us?
7. Start a sheet mulching project. Use leaves left in the landscape to add a nutrient-dense layer for future soil. Create layers with cardboard boxes saved from holiday shopping! Use quality, locally sourced mulch free from chemical dyes. Wood chips are great too, and can often be sourced from local tree service companies for free. Learn more about sheet mulching and how to do it in our blog post: Worms, Compost + Building Soil
8. Consider “Cues to Care” (signage, loose fences, pathways, stepping stones, logs, art) and think about ways to make your landscape look more tended on the edges, so you can get away with more wild gardens this year. Neighbors and friends will embrace your “messy” wild style if you send the signal that you care.
9. Order a sign from the National Wildlife Federation to declare your landscape a Certified Wildlife Habitat. If you don’t yet meet the criteria, make this your checklist to achieve! You can also order signs for Butterfly Sanctuaries and Bird Sanctuaries. Learn the requirements for becoming a Certified Wildlife Habitat here.
10. Learn about frost sowing and consider transforming lawn into meadows.
11. Check in with your seeds. Order what you need for next season, organize seeds you collected in fall, check for mold and make sure they’re being stored in a cool, dry area.
12. Propagate annuals + take cuttings of certain trees, shrubs and herbs. Start native annual seeds now to allow them to go through the cold stratification they need.Some natives like Red Twig Dogwood can be live staked, which means you can simply take a cutting and plant it directly in the ground. Other cuttings can be kept in water over winter to sprout roots, then plant in spring. → Learn more about propagating native plants from seed. → Check out this helpful Q+A about winter propagation trees + shrubs. → Learn more winter EarthCare tips specifically for your garden in our blog - Winter in the Garden: What's Happening Underground?
13. Look for tracks in the snow and mud. See if you can identify what kind of animal left them. Take pictures, sketch the pattern in your nature journal. Wildlife leave their stories behind and tracking is one of the best ways to learn the language of Nature. Tracks are the origins of our written language! Learn more about the art of tracking from the podcast and/or book A Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life.
14. Practice Listening. Use the Merlin app to identify bird songs and who knows where these sirens of sweet nature song will draw you. They are a gateway to connection and learning to distinguish one bird’s many different calls will enhance your listening skills.
15. Participate in Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count. Learning to identify birds is an easy way to connect with nature from within the warmth of your home, through windows. Some folks organize or join larger birding groups and travel to find rare birds!
16. Read! Some of our recommendations are: The Earth Restorer’s Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow; One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka; Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz.
17. Connect with FIRE - safely of course! Build a fire on a hike off-trail where there’s plenty of rocks and soil to suppress it when you’re done. We live in a wet climate, so there’s little chance you will start a forest fire, but be sure to check for fire safety warnings at the trailhead where there’s signage or look it up online. If you have a backyard or access to space where it’s legal, build a fire and just sit quietly for a bit and see what the warmth attracts or repels in terms of wildlife and maybe other humans!
18. Do a winter land walk. We recommend doing this seasonally at least. Take notes on what you observe in the patterns of the sun, soil, water, weather, trees, animals, insects and anything else that catches your attention. The more you walk the land, the more you will learn to see what matters. It’s different in every unique Place.
Book a Land Walk Consultation
As you start practicing Land Walking this winter, it's a great opportunity to take notes of your observations in your nature journal. Then, get on our books to bring Kendra out to your land with a Spring Land Walk Consultation!
These consults give you the opportunity to ask questions, talk through your observations and challenges in detail, and level up your understanding of what you're seeing in your landscape. It's also the gateway to further on-site services with LadyBug EarthCare. Due to the land-based + seasonal nature of our work, we need to meet your landscape first, and then allow ample time to observe before implementing projects.