By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:
October through January is a great time to start planning and working on your future garden site or on adding to your existing garden. Using the colder, outdoor conditions to your advantage when it comes to garden design will not only save you time when the growing season does arrive, but it will help you better understand how your garden evolves throughout the entire year.
The colder weather during these months can help you see the garden site as much more of a blank canvas. One main reason for this is the lack of plants that are growing, allowing you to view the details of the terrain much easier. Designing and planning your garden during these colder months will also save you time later, having your new garden area ready for planting by the time the first weeks of the new growing season do arrive around March.
There's also less heavy rain during these colder months as compared to spring and summer, so the new garden soil and stones added into your garden site will have more time to gradually settle into their new locations without being washed away or moved by the heavy rain of thunderstorms.
Winter conditions — things like frost heaves, ice, snow, rain, wind, and the sun — often help settle your new garden into place, giving you less surprises in the Spring when your plants are in the ground.
And you won't have to do much digging when designing your garden in the cold, so the frozen ground is not much of an issue. Simply bring in new soil and cover the frozen ground. This will also help with areas of poor drainage in your garden by raising the level of your garden from the surrounding terrain.
If wanted, there are some plants that can be planted in your garden during the colder months. Hardy evergreens are a great choice. Planting these evergreens during the cold will help give you a much better idea of the winter color your garden will have since many evergreens that were one color in summer will change the color of their leaves in the colder weather. Planting these evergreens during the cold will also help you place them in locations better suited to help with privacy issues if that is what you desire.