Although outdoor maintenance often takes a back seat to other pleasures during the later fall and wintertime months, for the best results next year, some pre-winter cleanup is the best practice for a healthier garden. Here is what you need to know about preparing your garden for winter — and why your cold, sleepy flowers are actually busy preparing to grow come spring.
Cold weather might have the mosquitoes and bees beaten, but garden pathogens and pest eggs are still hard at work. Protect your garden by cutting back or removing diseased branches or plants that could spread disease to the rest of your healthy plants. Not sure what to look for? Remove stems, branches and flower heads that look black or have spots or holes. Keep in mind that some plants — such as Black-Eyed Susans — have flower heads that will re-seed. You can save these and spread them someplace else you’d like to see some color.
Under the soil, your perennials are growing deeper roots and drinking in nutrients from the soil as well as the mulch you put down earlier in the season. No matter how dismal things look above the soil, it’s what goes on underneath that counts — so protect those roots with a new layer of mulch. This will keep the temperature steady. If you don’t want to spend money on costly mulch, you can use natural materials such as pine needles and fallen leaves.
Those who live in a snowy climate are blessed and cursed. A thick snow cover acts almost like mulch and protects plants’ root systems; but heavy, wet snow and dry, cold winds can damage branches. Burlap covers help avoid burn and also protect branches, while a wooden cover keeps the plant underneath strong.
Planting and Digging
When is the best time to plant? Many gardeners say fall. Not only are plants typically on sale, but the moderate temperatures and rainfall make it a great time to put down roots. Now is the time to think about cheerful crocus or snowbells, and how lovely those daffodils, hyacinth and tulips will look when it’s still sweater weather. Some bulbs, such as gladiolus and dahlia, do best when dug up for the winter; cover them with mulch, and store them in your basement for replanting in the spring. Others, such as daffodils, are happy to stay underground.
Finally, don’t forget to bring cuttings of your favorite annuals inside. Begonias, geraniums and impatiens will all flourish in a sunny spot indoors, even when it’s cold and snowy outside.