Get Growing Blog

Winter Work and Beauty at the Arboretum

February 12, 2024


My colleagues and I are often asked, “What do you do in the winter?” or people comment, “Winter must be your slow season.” Winter is an important time for those of us who work in gardens. It’s not a slow season, it’s a different season. We shift our skill set. Colder temps and snow cover give us time to focus on tasks such as garden designs, plant choices, researching plant species to find just the right plant for a desired location. Many of my teammates spend time in the winter working on articles, grant proposals, presentations, garden narratives and plans for tours of our gardens. We also spend time cleaning and sharpening tools, ordering new tools, and budgeting for future tools. We attend workshops, symposia, webinars and committee meetings.

A portion of horticulturist, Lori Gogolin’s garden design

We write class proposals, lesson plans and create lists of supplies needed for classes. Not to mention planning tasks and projects for the upcoming growing season for interns, volunteers, and seasonal workers.

Winter is a time to rejuvenate certain woody shrubs by pruning, such as hydrangea paniculate, stephanandra, and lilacs. Because the plants do not have their leaves it’s easier to evaluate the structure and detect dead wood. Elm and oak trees are generally only pruned in the winter. There is a growing prevalence of Dutch elm disease and oak wilt here in Northeast Ohio. Both diseases are carried by beetles that are attracted to fresh cuts on host trees. Pruning during winter avoids this problem.

Rejuvenation pruning with a mini chain saw of a dwarf Korean lilac, Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ in Main Display.

“As winter blankets the world in a pristine layer of snow, a silent transformation takes place in the natural world. Snow cover and dormancy are interconnected elements in the delicate dance of our planet’s ecosystems. Understanding this intricate relationship is crucial for appreciating the power in the beauty of winter.” This is a quote from a blog (link below) written by HF&G’s Beck Swab, PhD, Director of Conservation and Community Forestry. I like this quote because it touches on the absolute necessity of winter and snow in ecoregion as well as the beauty. Our winters in NEOH have become strange. Some scientists believe that over the coming years, climate change’s effects will likely be felt most acutely during winter. Seasonal snowfall is declining in many cities. “We should be working towards preserving the delicate harmony of our planet’s ecosystems in the face of a changing climate.” This quote is also from Beck Swab’s blog, I believe we can do this by spending time in nature and appreciating it even in winter! I’ve included some photos of winter from our Arboretum campus to inspire you to come visit, observe, learn and inspire change.

Check out the blog I’ve referenced written by Beck Swab, PhD, Snow and Dormancy: A Delicate Balance Threatened By Climate Change.

Mary Lineberger

Mary Lineberger


Mary Lineberger is a horticulturist in the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden. Previously she was the Garden Manager at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History as well as a seasonal hire at Holden in 2015 and 2016. She is pictured here with Norman, who before joining Mary’s family, was a scrawny stray wandering the woods surrounding Holden Arboretum.

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