Winter is no time to withdraw to the house. It's a good time to plan your landscape.
With trees bare and foliage dormant, the season brings a fresh canvas, a chance to reassess and retool your property, says Kim Todd, horticulture specialist at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
"I call it the bones of the landscape," she says. "You can take a look at the space."
Where to start? First, consider how the yard is used, Todd suggests. You might not want to invest in an elaborate garden if the children play there. Also, consider how much work you want to put into the yard, especially because a manicured yard takes time.
In considering new plantings, take into account the scale of your property. On country property, a few small plantings will be swallowed up by an expansive sky. Likewise, on a small suburban property, a bunch of big trees just won't fit.
In regions where the cold really lingers, consider foliage that retains its beauty year round, such as evergreens. Choose carefully if you're selecting foliage for privacy or to conceal something — make sure the foliage won't lose its leaves.
"You don't want to reveal the transformer or the ugly side of the garage," Todd says.
Winter is a good time to have your property professionally surveyed, if you haven't had one done in a number of years, suggests Don Janssen, extension educator at the University of Nebraska in Lancaster County. A survey will establish firm property lines preventing encroaching on a neighbor's land.
But Janssen suggests taking a personal survey, too. Map out the property annually, making note of plantings that did well and those that didn't. It's easy to forget what those plantings were that didn't survive five years ago, and you don't want to plant them again.
Take photos of the yard year round, too. One part of the yard may look great in the summer but not so good in the winter, when foliage is gone.
Remember to take photos from both a public point of view and your own, from the bedroom window for example. Review these photos and map while planning your landscape, before making any new purchases.
Winter also is a good time to consider fencing or outbuildings.
Whether you're fencing to keep something in, something out, or purely for aesthetics, a bare landscape can allow you to see more of what's there, so you can see exactly where — and what — you're fencing.
And consider the surroundings. If a neighbor has an attractive garden or tree, perhaps you should forgo a privacy fence that conceals it and instead install one that allows you to take advantage of the view.
Kim Todd lives next door to a talented gardener, for example. A wire-mesh fence keeps her dog safely in her own yard and allows her to enjoy her neighbor's garden.
"I can sit on my patio and borrow her landscape visually," she says.
If you're planning an out-building, determine how noticeable you want it. Do you want it clearly visible for security reasons or should it blend with the rest of the landscape?
Thinking about these things now, Todd says, will give you a head start on spring planting — and free up your summer.
Amy Green is a journalist based in Nashville, TN.