How to Prep Your Garden for Winter
It's wintertime, but that doesn't mean that your garden has to suffer! Here are some tips on how to keep your garden spick-and-span in the cold weather months.
When to Winterize
The best time to prep your garden for winter is right around the first hard freeze in fall. A hard freeze means night temperatures dip below freezing. In our region, that tends to be early to mid-November. But it’s never too late, so if you haven’t started yet, here are several tips to get you started.
- Once tender plants die back after that first freeze, it’s a good time to start cleaning up the garden beds – pulling out spent plants and weeds. In vegetable gardens, remove old plants so you can start your spring garden with a clean slate.
- Dispose of garden debris; don’t leave dead plants hanging around. Some pests or diseases can overwinter and start back up again next spring.
- Spring-blooming perennials can be cut back to a few inches above the ground.
- Summer perennials like coneflowers, rudbeckia and ornamental grasses can be left to provide seeds for birds and visual interest in the winter landscape.
- Adding a three to four-inch layer of mulch helps insulate plants’ roots from temperature swings.
- Mulch also helps prevent winter weeds from sprouting in your garden beds.
- Any type of mulch will do – wheat straw, pine straw, pine bark nuggets, shredded bark, or chopped up leaves
- If your garden has endured an extended dry period in the fall, give it a generous drink of water (especially evergreen shrubs). Hydrated plants are healthier and stronger, so they’ll survive winter better. Plus, watered soil helps plants weather through a freeze more than dry soil.
- Avoid excessive watering; a wet winter can cause root rot.
- Swap out the plants in your pots to cold-hardy options like pansies and violas, small evergreens, helleborus, cyclamen, ornamental cabbage and kale, and more.
- Keep pots consistently hydrated. Moist potting soil helps plants tolerate a frosty temps more than dry soil. In case of a hard freeze, thoroughly water pots before the sun goes down and then water them again once temps rise above freezing. You can also move pots to a protected area like a shed or garage over night them move them back the next morning after a freeze or snow.
Deal with fallen leaves. You have several options:
- Mulch them with your lawn mower and leave them on the grass to add nutrients
- Rake them up and add them to the mulch around garden beds
- Add them to your compost bin
- Prevent winter weeds by applying a Crabgrass Preventer or a pre- and post-emergent weed control like Bonide® Weed Beater Complete.
Preparing for a Freeze or Snow
Cover: Place a frost cloth over tender plants prior to sunset before the frost to help trap in the warmth from the soil and protect them from wind. Ideally, frost cloth should not touch foliage. Secure the frost cloth with stakes, rocks or bricks so wind doesn't blow it off. It's important that you remove the frost cloth first thing in the morning so that the cloth does not trap in the heat from the sun and cause damage. For small sprouted plants, empty buckets or empty planting containers will suffice for coverage. Which plants should you cover? Anything that’s newly planted and anything that may have tender new growth or flower buds that could be damaged by the freeze.
Wash: Any plants that you can't cover to protect from frost can be washed at sunrise after the cold snap. Use a hose to gently spray them with water BEFORE the sun comes out. This will help minimize frost damage by melting the ice as quickly as possible.
Remove Snow: Use a broom to remove heavy snow from shrubs to prevent limbs from breaking and to keep compacted snow from further damaging foliage.