Always a Busy Winter

Contrary to common belief, winter is not a slow season at the Garden. There’s much garden preparation and plant conservation work to be done.

Photos by Sonya Lalla

After months of joyous planting, watering, and harvesting, winter seems like the perfect time to hibernate and wait for spring. But at the Garden, a horticulturist’s work is never done, no matter how cold or snowy it gets. In fact, this is the time when the next few years’ displays are starting to take shape.

For more than 150 years, beautiful plant collections and displays have connected the community to the Garden’s global mission. Garden horticulturists use their knowledge of plant propagation and cultivation to develop conservation protocols. They maintain a living collection of more than 16,000 different kinds of plants that supports plant research and conservation. It includes a canopy of 5,000 trees; the historic orchid, cacti, and aroid collections; and hundreds of poinsettias and conifers for the holiday show. Horticulturists care for it all.

Most of the Garden’s annual horticultural planning begins in the winter, including plant research, display design, maintenance, and propagation for the upcoming seasons. In fact, what horticulturists are planning for this winter is 2017—not 2016—and beyond. “There is a misconception that winter is downtime at the Garden,” says Senior Manager of Horticulture Jim Cocos. “A lot of planning and behind-the- scenes work happens during these months.”

Garden horticulturists spend a significant amount of time researching plants to grow the Garden’s living collections. They focus on wild-collected plants and study their location, collection, and propagation data. “We try to find plants that not only enhance our collections but also help us connect our visitors to our mission,” Cocos says. Winter is also when they browse different catalogs for new perennials, trees, and shrubs to add to the gardens.

Time not spent preparing next year’s display gardens and helping with the annual holiday flower show and the Orchid Show is dedicated to removing snow or ice, mulching, pruning, cleaning tools, and taking inventory of every individual plant and updating the Garden’s plant database. As  upervisor of Horticulture June Hutson explains, “winters are getting shorter—not because of the weather but because of how much time we have to prepare for spring.”

The cold months are also some of the busiest in the Garden’s greenhouses. Once the plants for the holiday flower show are moved to the display hall, the greenhouse team takes the opportunity to clean and sterilize the greenhouses. They start to propagate and carefully time more than 200,000 annual bedding plants and other plants to add to the living collection. “Not one winter is ever the same,” says Nursery Supervisor Derek Lyle, “because we’re never growing the same plants, and the growing conditions are never the same.”

We ♥ Hort!

All year long, expert horticulturists make the Garden a world-leading showplace for plants. Make a special year-end gift to support this incredible team of staff and volunteers at

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