Learn How to Properly Winterize Your Gardens
Why and When Should I Winterize my Gardens?
As fall winds down ushering in the long winter months, it is wise practice to ensure your gardens are winter ready. After a successful growing season, your garden soil, especially when bare of mulch and especially after or during extended drought conditions, will most likely have become nutrient-poor with mounting weed pressure. The process of winterizing adds back nutrients ensuring healthy spring soils that support bountiful crops and blooms. Through seasonal cues, plants know what to do to winterize themselves but without added nutrients, soil doesn't change much. The best time to winterize your garden is after frost in the fall or when most of the leaves have fallen. Some plants can handle mild frost and will keep blooming and looking great while other, less hardy, tender plants like annuals, will concede to the cold.
How Do I Winterize my Garden and Planters?
- Planters containing perennials, grasses, shrubs or trees should be wrapped with fleece or bubble wrap to avoid freezing completely.
- Cover garden beds with shredded leaves, straw, dried grass clippings, well rotted compost and/or manures and other organic materials
- Cut back perennials to a few inches above the soil layer or to where newly formed winter buds show.
- Remove slimy leaves - pest love slime!
- Water gardens and planters thoroughly to ensure your soil has enough moisture to get plants through the winter months. Avoid watering when leaves have dropped. Once this happens most plants no longer uptake water. Adding water could encourage root rot and attract disease and pests
- Cut back and mound most grasses
- Ball up summer flowering shrubs such as lavender and many spirea
- Remove diseased plant parts, fruit and invasive plant material and do not compost
- Chop up healthy but spent plant parts and leave in the garden or add to a compost pile
- Plant spring flowering bulbs and garlic bulbs
- Prepare cool weather plants for colder weather by covering them at night with frost deterring materials or use a cold frame or greenhouse
- Avoid cutting back perennials and bulb leaves too early. Leave greenery to die back on its own. The green leaves will continue to feed the bulbs until the leaves turn brown
- Avoid pruning trees and sensitive shrubs too close to hard frost or die back from frost damage can occur
- Leave happy plants blooming as long as possible. The flowers can provide critical nectar and pollen for pollinators
- If you want winter interest or food and habitat for wildlife, leave some spent plants like sunflowers, coneflowers and ornamental thistles upright. Some plants provide vital habitat and sanctuary for birds and butterflies and other insects to lay eggs and overwinter. Some firmly believe that if you cut all your plants to ground level, you may be eliminating next season's crop of butterflies
- Spread 1-6 inches of compost or composted manure over your gardens but avoid pushing the material to close to plant stems. The compost will warm the soil and protect it from desiccation as well as provide ongoing nutrients for the soil food web. Do not spread protective compost or mulch too early or rodents will move in and feast on your plants!
- Remove tree hangers to prevent them from damaging the tree or from falling on someone or something
- Use your leaves as a resource. Rent or use your own leaf shredder to make wonderful leaf compost that breaks down over time releasing nutrients. Bagged leaves on curbs are also great if they aren't composed of black walnut or other toxic leaves
- Allow your root crops like carrots and beets to stay in the ground. Doing so makes them sweeter. You can harvest these throughout the winter months
- Avoid rototilling your gardens. This practice is scientifically proven to negatively affect soil structure and function as well as impact the sensitive soil food web
- Winterize your gardening gear. Clean, condition, sharpen and properly store your hand tools and other garden implements. Ensure your power equipment is also winterized so it runs well in spring