Columns, In the Garden

Surviving Cabin Fever

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photo by Deborah J. Benoit
Growing herbs, such as sage and mint, in pots indoors in winter is a fun activity to combat cabin fever.

by Deborah J. Benoit, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – It’s that time of year when the groundhog has retreated back into its burrow, but the temperature tempts us with the possibility of spring. We all know there’s still plenty of snow and cold weather yet to come. On those days, when the world outside is gray and dreary, the walls surrounding us can seem much too close.

Fighting cabin fever can be as simple as bringing home a new houseplant in bloom to raise your spirits or some cut flowers to brighten up a room. Better yet, set your inner gardener free and think spring.

Forcing flowering branches such as witch hazel and forsythia to bloom will bring a touch of spring indoors. Take a walk outside to check your spring flowering shrubs and trees. Look for any branches that you would normally prune in late spring after flowering.

Be sure any branches you select include fat buds that are just waiting for warmer weather to open into flowers. Cut and bring branches indoors, trim to desired size and place in room temperature water in a sunny location. The closer to actual bloom time, the quicker flowers will open. For more detailed information on forcing branches, see

When the weather outside is in full winter mode, sit back with a cup of something warm and browse through the seed and garden catalogs that have been arriving in your mailbox since late autumn. If your stack of incoming catalogs isn’t high enough, visit online versions. Make a wish list of plants you’d like to add to your garden this year, but don’t stop there. If you’re planning on ordering seeds or plants, this is the time to do so. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that what you want will be out of stock.

Plants ordered now should ship to you when the time is right for planting. Seeds will likely be shipped when ordered, so there’s no time like the present to make sure you have everything needed to get those seeds started at the appropriate time.

If you just can’t wait to grow something, there’s no reason not to start some potted herbs or salad greens from seed now. You’ll be enjoying an indoor harvest before the hummingbirds return in the spring. For more information on seed starting, visit

On a stormy winter’s day when you’re stuck inside, consult your garden journal and refresh your memory about the details of last year’s garden. This trip down memory lane is also a place to create wish lists, record your plans and sketch garden layouts. It will provide an invaluable reference in years to come.

If you don’t have one, this is a great time to start one. All you need is pen, paper and a binder to hold the pages. For more information on garden journals, see

Don’t limit yourself to plant selection in your spring planning. Make notes and sketch the coming season’s garden.

Take a walk in the garden when weather permits. Record conditions there such as how much snow remains and any damage that will need to be tended to in the spring. Record snowfall, when the snow recedes, when the ground thaws and when the ground temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit. All of this information can help you plan next year’s garden schedule.

What if you just need to get away from the confines of home?

Take a trip to the library or your local bookstore and make a beeline to the gardening section. There you’ll find volumes of inspiration and instruction that will transport your mind far away from winter’s cold and into the garden.

[Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of Vermont’s Bennington County Chapter.]

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