Prep your garden for winter
By Carrie Dunlea
Taking steps to protect plants from winter weather is an important part of maintaining a healthy garden that thrives from year to year.
Timing is of the essence when winterizing, experts suggest the best time to winterize is after the first hard freeze in the fall. When that occurs, annual plants and vegetables are killed off and perennial plants, which grow back year after year, begin going dormant.
Better Homes and Gardens notes that perennials are the easiest plants to prepare for winter, as they require just a little cutting back and mulching to be safe from cold weather. But no two perennials are alike, so gardeners should seek advice on how to prepare their particular perennials for the coming months.
The tasks necessary to prepare for winter may depend on what you are planting, but
the following are some general maintenance suggestions that can keep gardens in top shape over the winter.
• Remove weeds and debris. They are not only unsightly and detrimental to plant life in spring, they also can be harmful in the winter. Weeds and debris left to linger in gardens through the winter provide overwintering spots for insects and can contribute to disease. So, it’s imperative to remove them before the ground hardens in winter otherwise it can make it hard to remove the roots of weeds, adversely affecting the garden as a result.
• Prepare the soil. The Farmer’s Almanac advises homeowners to gently till the soil in their gardens so they can expose any insects before they settle in for the winter. Once garden soil is exposed, add a layer of compost, leaves, aged manure, and, if necessary, lime, gently tilling it into the soil. According to the
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, the only accurate way to determine if lawn or garden soil needs lime is to test it. Lime makes soil less acidic and reduces soil pH. Low soil pH makes it hard for certain plants to grow, but acidic soil is ideal when growing blueberries. Test the soil for lime and amend it depending on what you hope to grow in the spring so it’s ready to thrive when winter ends.
• Remove dead or diseased plants. Experts recommend pulling dead annuals and adding them to a compost pile after a killing frost. Any annuals that developed fungal disease should be discarded. Mulch annual beds with a three-to four-inch layer of chopped leaves or similar materials, spreading the mulch only two inches thick over self-sown seeds you want to germinate in the spring.
• Dig up bulbs. Bulbs of tender plants like dahlias and tuberous begonias can be dug
up and overwintered in their dormant state. All dead foliage should be removed after they’ve been dug up, and the bulbs should be allowed to dry out a little before being stored. Container gardeners can overwinter their tender bulbs in pots inside, but remove foliage and store them in a dark, cool place that maintains temperatures above freezing.
• Protect fruit trees. Install mouse guards around the base to prevent mice and voles from killing the trees over the winter as they may eat the bark of fruit trees, killing the trees as a result. The Farmer’s Almanac notes that mouse guards made of fine mesh hardware cloth can effectively protect fruit trees from the rodents over the winter.
Winterizing may mark the end of gardening season, but it’s an important task that can ensure a healthy, beautiful garden next spring, summer and fall.