How to Winterize Your Garden and Prep It for Spring
To Plant or Not to Plant
While winterizing your garden (well in advance of winter), you may want to consider planting perennials, shrubs and trees. If you have at least four weeks to the first frost date in your area, the moderate temperatures and adequate moisture of fall make it the ideal time to prepare a more beautiful landscape for the spring. Note: Trees with burlap root balls need to be in the ground six to eight weeks before the first frost date. Even potted perennials and shrubs can be planted now, but remember the additional requirements for closer moisture monitoring.
Throw Out the Old
We think one of the most depressing jobs is cleaning out the ‘dead’ garden; and yet we grumble even more loudly when we have to clean up the mess in the spring. Once the vegetable plants have quit producing, you can pull them up. You can do this while they are still green or wait until they turn brown, both of which are ideal for starting or adding to your compost bin or pile. Do NOT compost anything that you suspect is diseased. For example, if you had tomato blight, pull those plants out by the roots and burn or dispose of them elsewhere. In fact, it is best to pull out all of the plants by the roots, including the weeds. Leaving the roots in the soil provides ideal overwintering shelter for bugs that will plague your garden in the spring. Leaving possibly diseased plants almost ensures the same result for next season. The same is true of your annual beds. It is so nice to start with a clean slate for next year!
Tidy It Up
After the first frost, cut your perennials back according to what is recommended for the type of plant you have. In almost all cases, cutting them back to about two inches above the soil level and removing the debris will assure you have a healthier plant next spring. If you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of snow but is liable to have exceptionally frigid winds with little moisture, mulch your perennials, shrubs and newly planted trees well. This will insulate the roots and maintain moisture throughout the winter. (This goes for strawberries, too; mulching prevents ‘heaving,’ which occurs as the soil warms and freezes over and over.) Avoid pruning new shrubs or trees the first year; this can overly stress them, making them more susceptible to winter kill.
Waiting until the weather forecast calls for extreme weather will likely mean you’ll be rushing around trying to find stuff with which to protect your plants (along with everyone else in your area). Stocking up ahead of time means you’ll always be prepared for the worst. These items don’t take up a whole lot of room but are priceless in case of the next blizzard of the century. Here are just a few things you should always have on hand:
- Plant covers
- Old sheets
- Plastic sheeting
- Old newspapers
- Plant ties
- Plastic milk jugs (They’ll stack in the off season, with the bottoms cut off. Use like a cloche.)
- Straw or hay bales
What you stock up on will depend upon what plants you landscape with. Take inventory and think ahead about what you may want to use to protect your plants. It is much less expensive to protect them than it is to replace them, especially if they are well-established and of substantial size.
Other Chores to Save Time & Money
Clean and store your garden tools: wash them, dry them well, and oil them. Rusted tools are dull, less efficient and even dangerous to use. Take the time to wash the entire tool, including the handles. Air dry if possible, even after hand drying. Then, use your favorite oil to preserve their finish through the winter. Some gardeners use a mixture of mineral oil and sand in a large bucket to store their tools, while simply spraying with WD-40 or any kind of light machine oil will also work. Store your tools where it is dry. If you notice your tools are too far gone to last another season, consider shopping for new garden tools now.
Disconnect, empty and store hoses: do this before the first hard frost, making sure to drain the hose entirely and then roll it loosely and hang or store it in a protected area. Note: if the hose is still connected and has frozen water in it, do not make the mistake of turning it on to ‘push’ the ice out. The likely result will be the water not having anywhere to go but back into your house by way of the stressed, and now broken, pipe. A good, inexpensive investment is to purchase faucet covers for your outdoor spigots.
Turn your compost one last time: Compost will continue to decompose over the winter, though much more slowly. Turn your compost pile one last time and add moisture if it is dry. If it is not covered, it will benefit you to cover it with dark plastic during this time. This will help it retain heat through the cold months, so it will decompose faster, and it will also help to jump-start the process in the spring. Your compost pile is the perfect place to put organic lawn and garden debris.
Fall garden clean-up and planting is an excellent family activity. At the end of the day, serve hot apple cider or chocolate with marshmallows. Got a fire pit? Break out the S’mores supplies! And then, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.