After a busy summer of gardening and yard work, the cooler weather of fall can bring a pleasant break from outside chores. But don’t let your garden space get neglected in the fall. You still need to plan ahead so you can take care of your vegetables, flowers and shrubs over the coming winter.
In warmer climates, winters aren’t that dramatic and probably won’t require a huge amount of work. But if you get snow and below freezing temperatures, it’s a smart idea to get ready in the fall.
Why Should You Winterize Your Garden?
If you are just leaving your gardens and plants to fend for themselves through the winter, you are missing out on a chance to improve the quality of your garden and avoid unnecessary wear and tear on your plants. Even just the soil itself can benefit from some additional care.
Winter brings freezing temperatures, heavy snow, and harsh winds, all of which can do a lot of damage. Soil can erode away and lose the entire top layer of beneficial bacteria and insect life.
How you get your garden ready for winter will depend on what you’re growing. Not all types of plants need the same cold-weather care. Tailor your autumn tasks to match what your specific garden has.
Trees and Shrubs
We’ll start with shrubs, small trees and other landscaping plants. Your biggest threat to your green landscaping in the winter is damage from snow and ice, rather than the cold temperatures. A heavy load of wet snow can (and will) snap branches, sometimes enough to kill the tree.
Larger plants are going to have to weather the winter on their own but you can help the smaller bushes and saplings with some burlap. Wrap your plants loosely, and tie down the fabric so it doesn’t pull free in the wind.
Another thing to consider with shrubs is that hungry deer can sometimes be a threat as well. The burlap covering can keep them from stripping off bark and nibbling off twigs in the winter.
You can also use plastic tree guards around the trunks of small trees to protect them as well.
After the shrubs, come the flowers. Annuals won’t require much work since they are naturally going to die in the colder weather. If you want to gather any seeds to plant for next year, you should do that before you pull up the dead plants.
For perennials, or plants that naturally come back in the spring, you should trim away most of the above-ground growth and mound some clean mulch around the base of the plants for insulation.
Roses can be a bit more delicate than many other flowers, and should be treated to additional TLC. Prune the bush down to about 3 ft in height, and remove all of the leaves as they die away.
For added protection, you should consider a “rose cone.” After you’ve pruned the rose bush, set the open-topped cone over the plant. Secure it down, and fill with loose mulch to cover the shrub. Protected and insulated, your roses will be fine until spring.
In some cases, you can dig up plants that might not survive the winter weather, settle them in pots, and let them stay indoors until spring. Begonias and geraniums are commonly relocated in the fall.
If you take this route, give your outdoor plants a thorough wipe down and a spray of natural insect killer, like a pyrethrum spray or insecticidal soap. After spending the summer outside, there is a good chance they can bring in additional pests to your indoor space.
For the vegetable garden, it should be a little simpler because almost all vegetables that you grow at home are annuals and aren’t supposed to survive over the winter anyway.
Once everything has been harvested, you should pull up the dying plants and add them to the compost pile. It might be tempting to leave the plants to decompose and fertilize the soil, but this is not the right time to do that.
Leaving a heavy layer of dead plant matter over your soil is just going to create an environment for mold, mildew and fungus.
Instead, use a thick layer of clean straw, grass clippings or leaves as a mulch to protect the soil from the weather. You want to hold in the moisture and prevent any erosion when the winds pick up.
While not really a “winterizing” chore, late fall can actually be the best time to do a little planting. Garlic does better in the spring if you can get the sets planted in the autumn.
Just make sure to mark the spot really well so you don’t accidentally dig them all back up again when you prepare the garden for the rest of the spring planting.
Don’t Winterize Too Early
It should be mentioned that you shouldn’t tackle all these winterizing steps too early, particularly in the vegetable garden. Many veggies are actually better if left growing until after a frost.
If you are growing kale, chard, turnip, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or parsnip, don’t be in a hurry to pull up your last plants in the fall. The cold temperatures won’t hurt the plant and they respond by making more sugars, which is why the leaves and roots taste noticeably sweeter if picked after they have been touched by frost.
You might not realize that your indoor houseplants could use a little consideration for winter as well. Temperature and weather are not the problem, but the shorter days can be.
If you are growing plants that need long days of full sunlight, you’ll have to be ready to supplement with some artificial lighting until the days get longer again in the spring.
LED lights are the best investment for plants, even though they are expensive at the outset. They last far longer than other types of bulb and use next to no electricity. They won’t get hot either.
Add a timer to keep the light going even after the sun is down, and your plants won’t even know it was winter.
Not Just Plants
Don’t focus solely on your plants and soil though. You can really extend the life of any outdoor decor and furniture if you can bring those things inside before the cold weather sets in.
Even items that are supposed to be durable enough will last a lot longer if you store them inside (or at least under cover) until spring.
When You’re Done
Once everything is cleaned up and protected for winter, you can sit back and relax until the warmer days of spring are back. Until then, take some time to do a little planning for next year’s plants.
In particular, think about your vegetable garden and consider doing some crop rotation. Planting the same things in the same spots every year will build up the populations of insect pests and viruses that attack those plants, making things harder on you each spring.
As long as you can still provide the right environment for your vegetables (lots of sun, partial shade, etc.), you should switch your plots around each year. Don’t plant the same thing again in any area for at least 3 years, if you have the space.