The nights have grown frosty over the past month. Bringing our gardening season to a close is often disheartening. All of that work and planning is complete to mark another year gone by, but just because the ground has frozen doesn’t mean the work is over; there is still more to do to winterize your garden.
Winterizing your garden is essential, often overlooked, a step that will make things easier for you when the spring comes. Preparing your garden and soil for winter will give plants the protection they need to survive and allow your plants to grow healthier next year.
When you know your zone, you can get a good idea of the first frost date as well as the date of the last anticipated freeze, allowing you to create a timeline to your winterization plan. Bruce Nurseries is in Zone 6a. The best time to start winterizing your garden is after the first hard freeze in the fall.
Now that you understand the importance of winterizing your garden and have researched your zone, it’s time to get started!
Step 1: Chop, clip, and cut
Remove all dead leaves or spent stalks from your plants. You want to trim your plants into the healthiest version of themselves before the winter. You are making them as efficient as possible. With limited energy over the winter, you don’t want your plant to waste any of it!
Step 2: Weed your garden
Weeding is a vital step in preparing your soil for the winter. You want to remove all of the dead plant materials from your soil so that they don’t cause any disease over the winter. Be sure you place any invasive or unwanted plants into covered garbages and not your compost pile. If you are suspicious that a plant has a bug infestation, remove it now, don’t wait to find out. While removing dead or unwanted plants, you can leave your root vegetables in the ground for the next season. Once you have removed all the unwanted plant material from your garden, you will want to rake your soil to help aerate it. If you have root vegetables, consider covering them with mulch rather than aerating them to help trap moisture and nutrients.
Leave your coneflowers and ornamental grasses alone for the season. They look nice, capped with snow, and they provide food for the birds in the winter.
Step 3: Collect your bulbs
Late fall is a great time to dig up your tender bulbs. You can dry them on a newspaper for a few weeks, then put them into a container, cover them with sawdust (sand, perlite, or vermiculture), and keep them in a cool dark place until they are ready to be replanted in the spring.
Step 4: Amend your soil
Fall is the best time to add amendments to your soil. Be sure you test your pH balance first, so you know what your soil needs. This process can be as simple as adding some compost before the winter.
Step 5: Create a protective layer
As we mentioned in step 1, adding a protective covering to your plants’ roots will help trap nutrients and moisture through the winter. Add a layer that is roughly 3 to 4 inches thick to all of your beds. Instead of using a tarp or garden fabric, consider these organic coverings:
- Leaf mold
- Leaf mulch
At the beginning of the next season, the remaining coverage can be turned into the soil.
Step 6: Spread mulch
Adding mulch to plants you planted recently will help them to develop their root systems. Adding a thick layer of mulch protects these new plants from being stressed during the freeze and thaw cycles they are about to incur. It is a good idea to check your mulch mid-winter to ensure that you still have a protective cover.
Step 7: Hydrate evergreens
Especially if you have experienced a dry autumn, giving your evergreen plants a deep soak before the winter begins is crucial. Conifers and other broadleaf evergreens are especially susceptible to winter burn because their leaves release moisture year-round. Don’t water during the first frost of the season. If you can, water trees a week before the ground freezes.
Step 8: Protect bark on young trees
Newly planted trees, especially fruit trees, have thin bark. Because their bark is so thin, they are more likely to suffer from sun-scald or crack. This is where tree wrap tape and protectors come in handy.
You can also drive stakes in the ground on the windward side of your plants to create windbreaks. If you place the stakes into a “V” formation facing the wind and cover the stakes with burlap or landscaping fabric, you can help protect them from the wind without wrapping the entire plant.
If you are working with shrubs, remember to remove wraps when the temperatures rise to avoid overheating.
DO NOT USE PLASTIC – when you cover your plants in plastic, you are trapping heat into the shrub, it cannot breathe, and it may cause your plants to cook.
Step 9: General Repairs
Winter is an excellent time for you to take inventory of all your gardening equipment. While you’re taking stock, notice if any of your equipment needs repair. If you are proactive about these repairs now, it will save you valuable time during the gardening season.
Step 10: Storage
While you may want to drop your gardening supplies at the end of a long day, we know the longevity of our equipment comes from proper storage. Especially during the winter months, it is essential to store everything out of the elements. If you want your equipment to work as well as the day you put it away, then you must keep it properly. Hoses, sprinklers, and watering equipment are especially vulnerable during the freeze and thaw cycle because if they have any water in them, they are sure to be damaged during the winter. Aside from freezing, these systems risk collecting dust or debris while they are not in use. Be sure all watering systems, including hoses, are clear of any water or debris using an air compressor, and hang them in a garage or a shed where they are less exposed to winter temperatures.
While it may be the end of the gardening season, it seems there are still some chores to do before we cozy up to the fireplace. Winterizing your garden is an important task to help reduce your stress and add to the excitement when the weather changes again this spring.
If you have any questions about winterizing your garden