An experienced homeowner knows you need to winterize certain aspects of your home, your HVAC system, and your car or RV, but what about winterizing your landscaping and garden? Although some plants will do fine left to their own devices, you can maximize your plants’ survivability and growth next season by helping them prepare for the cold winter months.
Plants are annuals (which die off after one year), biennials (which last two years), or perennials (which live more than two years). Your annual plants, which include marigolds, daisies, petunias, impatiens, geraniums, and most herbs, are going to die off no matter what you do. You may be able to gather some of their seeds in the fall so you’ll be ready to replant in the spring, but other than removing the dead plants there isn’t any need for extensive winter prep.
During the first year of biennials’ growth, the roots, stems, and leaves are formed, then in the second year they flower and form seeds or fruit. Biennials include parsley, black-eyed Susans, pansies, and foxglove. Perennials complete their full cycle every year, but come back in the spring, assuming they survive the cold winter months. Certain plants will require special treatment, but a good starting point for winterizing your garden includes:
- Clear out debris, remove dead plants and stems, cut off diseased foliage from evergreens, and remove old flowers. This will reduce the chance that botanical diseases and insect eggs will harbor in the ground, causing trouble next spring.
- Go ahead and prune dead branches off of trees now. This reduces the chance of a tree being knocked over in a fall storm, or limbs falling when snow settles on them. Trim back any branches that overhang your roof or walkways.
- Make repairs to your raised beds, steps, and fencing. The fall tends to be a quiet time for most gardens and landscaping. Use your free time to take care of maintenance so that in the spring, you’ll be ready to roll.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch! The mulch you put down in the spring is likely decomposed by now. Using a hoe, spread it out a bit then add a 1-2 inch layer of compost, followed by a thick layer of new mulch in flowerbeds and around trees and shrubs. The mulch will help to keep ground temperatures even, reducing the rate of freezing which helps plants adjust slowly to new temperatures.
- Even though the growth of things above ground is slowing down or stopping, the roots of most perennials, shrubs, and trees are still growing strong, storing up sugars for the winter. Don’t completely neglect watering during this time, but don’t water if you hear reports of a frost or freeze coming in the next few days.
- Screen your evergreen shrubs and wrap your roses and tree trunks. Burlap cloth can make a great windscreen for delicate shrubs, or be used to wrap roses and fruit trees. The space between the screens can also be filled with shredded leaves or mulch for added insulation. Paper tree wrap is another great solution for young trees with a thin bark, including maples, cherry trees, and other fruit trees.
- Time for bulbs! Fall is the best time to plant bulbs for next spring and summer, including garlic, shallots, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth. Be sure to follow planting directions for your agricultural zone… too shallow and they’ll freeze, but too deep and they’ll struggle to break through in the spring.
- Bare spots in the lawn? Fall is a great time to reseed. Loosen the soil in the bald spot, distribute grass seed, cover with a thin layer of straw or mulch, then keep the area well-watered until the grass comes in strong and freezing temperatures arrive