Prepare Your Garden for Winter!!
Fall is an amazing season filled with colorful leaves, hot apple cider, and the anticipation of the first snow; then comes winter, the season of snow and ice. As winter comes to an end, you begin to crave the beauty and color of spring.
But wait! What has happened to your beautiful gardens? They’re full of weeds, your prized dahlias are dead, and your evergreen shrubs are all brown and shriveled. So, you go to the tool shed to perform damage control, only to find that all your tools are rusty and their handles are cracked. You ask yourself, “Why did this happen to me?” The answer is simple; you forgot to winterize your garden and care for your tools.
Preparing your garden, lawn, and tool shed for winter is an essential fall activity that starts in September and lasts through December.
- Water Deeply
One of the most important things you can do to prepare your lawn and flower beds for winter is to give them a deep and thorough watering before the ground freezes. This will provide the plants with the water they need to survive through winter.
Remember, unless there is snow cover, it is important to water your plants during prolonged dry spells in the winter (longer than 2 weeks) to avoid damage to roots and evergreen foliage due to dehydration and desiccating winds. The best time to water in the winter is in the middle of the day and when temperatures are above 40ºF.
- Fertilize with Organic Fertilizer
Fertilize your beds in the fall with a slow-release organic fertilizer such as Plant-tone or Holly-tone. André prefers organic fertilizers because they distribute nutrients evenly over time, preventing plants from growing too early in the winter or spring. He doesn’t recommend inorganic fertilizers since they tend to work very quickly, jump starting growth too early.
- Cutting Back Perennials
When your perennials have finished blooming for the year, you can cut them back and compost the foliage. It is not necessary to do this in the fall but many gardeners enjoy cleaning the garden at this time to make it look tidier through the fall and winter months.
- Some perennials SHOULD be cut back in the fall
- Any plant foliage that looks diseased, has powdery mildew, or insect damage should be cut back and the foliage should be bagged up and placed in the trash. This plant material should never be composted because it could contaminate your garden next year.
- It is especially important to cut back and throw out peony foliage as peonies are prone to fungal diseases.
- Some perennials SHOULD NOT be cut back in the fall
- Do not cut back ornamental grasses, Buddleia, crape myrtle, Callicarpa, or Caryopteris until spring.
- Ornamental grasses should be cut close to the ground in early spring before growth begins.
- After the threat of cold weather in the spring, prune the above listed shrubs back to live green wood or down to about 12"-18".
- Prune crape myrtle later in the spring after new growth begins so you can identify and remove any winter killed branches before you do any pruning of live wood.
- If you want, leave the stems of taller sedums and the seed pods of Yucca, poppies, and Siberian Iris because they look nice throughout winter even after their flowers are gone.
- Weed Your Beds
Fall is a great time for weeding! Weeds can act as both reservoirs and alternate hosts for a wide variety of insect pests and diseases that plague our gardens. Plus, by doing your weeding in the fall, you get a great head start on spring weeds and will hopefully prevent many of the current weeds from seeding.
- Mulch Your Beds
Mulching is highly recommended to keep plants from heaving and to protect the crowns of more tender plants. Mulch is great for keeping down weeds and keeping the soil evenly moist throughout winter. A layer of mulch will also help prevent the freezing and thawing of the soil that can cause the heaving of herbaceous perennials and newly planted trees and shrubs. You can use anything from bark to pine needles.
- Protect Your Evergreens
Protect your evergreen shrubs from drying in the bitter winds of winter. Boxwood and junipers are particularly prone to wind burn. Spray the foliage of broad-leaved evergreen shrubs in exposed positions with an anti-desiccant spray such as Bonide Wilt Stop. Wilt Stop protects evergreens from winter injury by forming a soft, clear flexible film over the leaves. Wilt Stop also protects evergreens from salt damage which can occur when you have a hedge near a road where salt is spread during the winter.
Put this on your gardening calendar for late fall. Read the label and apply according to the label directions.
- Overwintering Tender Perennials and Tropicals
When nightly temperatures begin to go below 55°F, it is important to move any tender bulb perennials and tropical plants indoors. Tender bulbs include dahlias, cannas, gladiolus, calla lilies, and Caladium. Store bulbs as recommended by the grower.
- In Your Tool Shed
Take an afternoon to organize your tool shed.
- Inventory your supply of herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. Make sure they are well sealed in their original containers and locked in an area protected from freezing temperatures and away from curious children and pets.
- Clean dirt off tools to prevent them from rusting. Sharpen any tools that need it. Tools with wooden handles should be rubbed down with a mixture of two parts boiled linseed oil to one part paint thinner or turpentine to keep them from cracking.
- Drain the gas from all machines. Interestingly enough, winter is the best time to service your lawn mower and tiller. There is typically a much quicker turn around time in winter and since you won’t need them, it’s much more convenient for you.
Contributed by Melissa Jones