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Put your beds to bed!

Getting your garden ready for winter

Contributors: Rick Schoellhorn

Getting your garden ready for winter is a lot like getting into bed on a cold winter’s night. It’s simple, brush off the crumbs from those cookies you were eating and pull the covers up!


Brushing out the crumbs:

Get rid of old leaves and stems that have fallen, especially near plants that might have
had some disease problems last year. In general healthy plants benefit from a good mulch of leaves around the stems and trunk, but if you were fighting diseases last year, you don’t want to keep any of those old leaves as they just guarantee you the disease will stick around – so hygiene is essential.

Pull the covers up:

A good mulch layer helps your garden beds in 3 main ways:

  1. Mulch helps even out winter’s temperatures and like a blanket helps your plants to winter over more easily.
  2. Mulch holds moisture. Why is that important? Because one of the biggest problems with winter is plants drying out – weirdly enough, even with all that snow the soil can sometimes dry and kill plants ‘mysteriously’ over the winter months. So make sure your plants go to bed with a well-watered root system.
  3. Mulch blocks out the sun, which helps perennial plants to sleep more deeply, it also blocks out sun in spring and keeps weeds from getting a head start on your spring garden.

Learn more about winter mulch here.

A couple things not to do in fall and early winter:

Generally you do not want to do any fertilizing of perennials and shrubs as we go into winter because it can often cause fresh new growth that winter’s freezes will kill off and in the process weaken your plants. A good deep watering before you put the hoses away is a great idea but lay off the plant food. However, it is fine to fertilize annuals since they will pass away with the cold in most cases, Also chances are you are better off not doing that last pruning you have been delaying on. 

Let it go until late winter – pruning can also stimulate new growth with all the same problems as mentioned above. Pruning in fall leaves wounds on trees and shrubs that don’t have time to heal properly, and may cause more die back as winter progresses.
So take it easy and give yourself some extra time to enjoy the fall weather!ut let your perennials and shrubs and trees go to sleep – they will be stronger next spring if they don’t get mixed signals this fall.

If you planted trees, shrubs and perennials late this fall:

Definitely keep them well watered because they do not have their roots down into the soil yet and that rootball from the nursery will dry out much faster than the soil around it. Over the winter, take advantage of any warm weather to water these recent additions again! Newly planted landscape plants can also benefit from additional mulching around their bases to help moderate winter cold. For some plants you might even consider a small screen or burlap fence to help reduce the amount of sun or wind the plants get until they have a year to establish themselves. This is more important in very cold winter areas, especially those with very high light and windy conditions.

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