Originally published in The Garden Path, Winter 2024. If you would like to get The Garden Path, we invite you to JOIN US as a member.
A Winter's Sleep
by Sue Hagan
“To die, to sleep — to sleep, perchance to dream …”
Hamlet was not sure what was going to happen to him if he chose death. Was there nothing — just “sleep”? Or was there life after death, perhaps in the form of bad dreams? Maybe death just held the appearance of nothingness, but was truly a step toward something new. Hamlet was not sure.
In nature, we know that plants die. But in winter, what looks to be dead and brown is often merely sleeping and waiting to take that step to something new. Think of a day lily. The foliage has turned brown and now lies atop frozen soil, and perhaps under a layer of snow. But underneath, that bulb is waiting. It has stored the energy from last season’s sunlight that helped form the stems, leaves and flowers. All the lily needs is a nudge — some warmth and longer days — for it to awaken and reach back up through the soil.
The maple tree’s branches, which awed us in autumn with their reds and golds, are bare now, creating a stark silhouette against the sky. But they, too, are full of life. As the leaves lost color, their energy was being reabsorbed into the twigs and branches. The energy is still there, hidden, and waiting for the springtime triggers of light and warmth to push out as new leaves.
Life is everywhere, even if it is hard to see in the grays and browns of winter. And not only does it lie waiting in dormant plants, it’s present in those leaves and fallen trees that have truly died. They are breaking down to nourish the land and give life to new plants.
The energy cycle continues, and the magic (or I guess, science) behind it is fascinating. It tells us when to prune, when to expect buds, and how long it will be before the plants erupt into springtime glory. And just knowing all this helps us make it through winter itself, when so much seems to be dead … but is only sleeping.
[NOTE: See the links below for information on the energy cycle of plants, along with a guide on when to prune various plants.]
Why Do Plants Go Dormant In The Winter?
When To Prune - Trees, Shrubs & Vines
Shrub Pruning Calendar