As fall ambles along and winter approaches, it’s time to put the garden to bed for the winter. Giving the garden a little love now will pay off over the course of the winter, as well as next spring when the snow melts and the garden is revealed again–tidy and ready to be tended and planted. Most tasks fall into two categories: cleaning up and covering up.
Cleaning Up the Fall Garden
Before the winter weather hits, tidy up the yard. Stray bricks, blocks or branches can become a hazardous surprise under snow and ice. Now’s the time to take a second look around yards, decks and porches and repair and/or put away anything that needs attention. Check that your downspouts are in order. Make sure drainage is good, to avoid any hazardous frozen puddles.
It’s also a good time to remove any dead branches, so they don’t come crashing down during storms. Rake leaves and remove dead foliage from perennials. Pull out the blackened foliage and stems of annuals–they are prone to harboring insect eggs and disease pathogens over the winter.
Put your tools to bed for the winter: Clean them, dry them, oil them, and send them for sharpening if needed, so they’re ready to roll come spring. Store them where they won’t suffer damage from moisture. Bring in hoses and protect exterior spigots and exterior containers could fill with water, freeze and crack, so empty them or cover them.
Covering Up the Fall Garden
Until the soil freezes, there’s still plenty of underground activity. Roots are trailing out of hardy bulbs, and from newly divided or transplanted trees, shrubs, and perennials. Microbes and earthworms are busily processing organic matter. Spreading organic mulch delays the freeze, protects soil and plants from rainfall and erosion, and helps keep the soil and roots at a uniform temperature. Thick layers of winter mulch wait until after the ground freezes, to discourage rodents. You can break down your piles of fallen leaves for an economical source of mulch; mulch with pine needles; or mulch with straw. Wrap delicate plants in burlap to protect them from harsh winter weather.
Prepare Perennials for Winter
Trim back dead perennial stems to soil level after frost, for a neat appearance and to eliminate pest eggs and disease spores. Stems with attractive seed heads can remain, for decoration as well as to help feed birds and animals. The removed plant material can be composted, but remember that a winter compost pile doesn’t have the heat necessary to kill pathogens or weed seeds, so be judicious. When in doubt, trash it
Prepare Bulbs for Winter
Tender bulbs should be dug up and stored in a cool dark place, wrapped with moist material. Hardy bulbs can stay in the earth: Protect their beds with evergreen boughs, to prevent erosion and shifting soil.
Prepare Trees for Winter
Hungry winter animals may nibble on the tender bark of young trees. Wrap their trunks with commercial tree-guard products or wire. Protect broad-leafed evergreens from the drying effects of the winter sun and wind by erecting shade cloth or burlap shelters.