Putting Your Garden to Bed for Winter
By Cynthia Welte
Is your garden ready for winter? Work you do now will lay groundwork for your garden next year. Much like returning from vacation to a clean home, starting spring in a prepped garden gives you energy and makes the work more pleasant. (Plus, it’s nice to look out at a tidy garden over the gray winter months.)
There are a few simple tasks that you can do now to protect your plants and soil. They are:
- Plant: if you have some plants or bulbs not in the ground yet, it’s not too late! Fall is the best time to get many plants in the ground, particularly woody plants. If the ground is frozen or the soil is heavy and saturated, you will want to wait until it warms or dries a bit.
- Cut back perennials: leaves and stems can be cut down now. If there is diseased tissue, remove that and throw it in the trash (not compost.) Cut back stems to a few inches off the ground. This will help you remember what you have and where, plus that that little bit above ground can help protect the crowns if there’s a hard freeze.
- Divide: many herbaceous perennials can be divided now. Hostas, irises, daylilies, and phlox are ready to divide when their centers become crowded and they don’t bloom well. Dig the plant and cut in two or more sections, then replant the divisions.
- Prune: now that you can see the branching of deciduous trees and shrubs, you have a better idea of what needs pruning. Cass Turnbull’s book Guide to Pruning offers great advice on what and where to cut. Generally, wait to prune early spring bloomers (like forsythia and lilac) until after they’ve bloomed.
- Mulch: protect the soil and reduce weeds popping up by mulching in beds. Now is a great time because you have more elbow room to work.
- Leaves: rake leaves into beds to protect the soil from heavy rains and help moderate temperature. This will also provide sheltering habitat for worms and ground dwelling insects. If you have large leaves, you’ll want to shred them first or leave loose on the top of mulch so that you can rake them in spring (large leaves may become a solid barrier).
- Protect plants: wrap particularly tender plants with burlap, or cover with wire cages and fill with leaves. Move container plants indoors or to sheltered areas.
- Look around: you can see the bones of your garden. Where are you missing structure or evergreen plants? Do you have overcrowded areas? It’s a great opportunity to envision changes you can make in the coming year.
- Tidy: drain and store hoses, protect faucets. Gather up your tools for cleaning and sharpening. Collect loose plant tags for your records.