Even for those of us who continue to grow vegetables in the wintertime, using cold frames and homemade greenhouses, we still have to put a lot of garden space to rest for the winter. We want to protect the soil life and keep the plants healthy, and that means showing the garden some love before the snow, frost, and freezing temperatures become commonplace.
While many homeowners take time to winterize the house (check out how to keep it warm more efficiently), fewer think about how to keep the gardens going strong. For one, there are many plants and vegetables that’ll hang around well into the winter months, surviving snow and severe chills. But, more importantly, there are some little jobs that can make next year’s garden much more fruitful.
So, while those autumn days still feel inviting, the temperatures cool and comfy, it’s worth getting outdoors for a few last-minute chores to prep the garden for success in the spring.
Clean Up the Beds
With the summer warmth subsided, many of the weeds in the garden will meet their demise. Now is a great time to get rid of them, particularly those plants that seemed diseased or infested. The established, hardened roots are easier to pull out entirely. Also, annual vegetables can be pulled out. If the plant was healthy, it can be dropped right in the garden to break down over the winter and feed the soil.
Tend to Perennials
Perennial plants should be dealt with, too. They can be clipped of the dead parts, and six weeks prior to the ground freezing is the right time to divide them. The few weeks of growth will allow the roots to establish a little before the plant goes dormant. Dividing perennials, as opposed to just thinning them out, allows us to spruce up areas that have lost a bit of pizzazz without buying new plants.
Plant the Bulbs
Whether it’s flowers or garlic, autumn is the best time to plant many types of bulbs. Some flower bulbs like to start coming up in early spring, and planting them in the fall allows them to get started whenever they like. Also, sometimes planting in February or March is difficult because the ground is still frozen. It’s better to plant bulbs in the fall and let them get their mojo working over the winter.
Dig Up the Tender Stuff
For gardens with tender bulbs and plants that are meant to grow next year, part of winterizing the garden is to dig these up and store them in safe spaces. Done annually, it’s possible to keep many plants considered to be annual alive for years because, in reality, they are perennials in warmer climates. Bulbs usually like to be stored in a dark, cool place (the basement or garage). Tender plants can be potted and converted into houseplants for winter. Geraniums are a great example of this.
Deal with the Water
It’s good to give the perennial plants and whatever else remains one last watering before putting the garden to rest for winter. After watering, it’s time to drain all hoses and empty watering cans. Be sure all of the irrigation aspects of the garden and/or ponds have been prepared to survive the frosty temperatures to come. It’s also a really good idea to store these items under cover, protecting them from the extreme weather.
Protect the Garden Beds
Blankets keep us warm during the winter, and gardens need blankets as well. That’s why we should put on a thick layer of mulch, such as straw or leaves. In active beds, such as those growing winter greens, the mulch will provide protective sheltering for soil life, as well as keep the soil from freezing as early in the winter. In dormant beds, the mulch should be put down just after the ground freezes. It will insulate it from moving in and out of the freeze-thaw cycle.
Add Additional Shelter
Some plants will stay around through the winter, but they will be much happier with added shelter. Evergreens can get windburn from the northern gusts, so it can pay to devise temporary windbreaks to minimize the intensity. Some shrubs won’t like deep freezes, so amassing a few burlap sacks or some fabric around to wrap them in severe weather is a good idea. For plants beneath rooflines, it’s worth installing protective shelters to block ice sheets from crushing them.
It doesn’t take much time or effort, but a few steps towards caring for the garden over winter can make a huge difference in the spring. A healthy garden moving into April will allow much more time for growing new plants instead of reinvigorating what’s already there. Winterizing is worth it!
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