How to Prep Your Plants So They Live Through the Winter
While it might not be as exciting as gearing up for a riot of summer blooms and bounty, winterizing the garden—that is, tucking it in before the coldest months of the year hit—can go a long way in protecting your beloved plants from pests, disease, and frost damage. Come spring, everything will remerge in tip-top shape. Here are the basics of winterizing a garden every homeowner should know.
Feeding your plants at the end of the season pushes out tender new growth—prime targets for frost damage and pest pressure. Forgo any late-season fertilizer and let plants slow down their growth naturally.
Remove Diseased Foliage
Serving no purpose except to foster more disease, get rid of any branches, leaves, or flowers that are sick. Don't compost any diseased material in your own home pile, as the problems can overwinter and multiply.
Remove any dead branches or leaves. Not only will this leave you with a much tidier looking garden, but you'll also have fewer places for pests and disease to incubate.
Dig up any tender bulbs that might not make it through the winter. After drying them on newspaper for a few weeks, store them in a container filled with sawdust or sand until they're ready to be replanted in spring.
It might surprise you to learn that conifers, including pines, spruces, and certain broadleaf evergreens like boxwoods, need moisture year-round. If Mother Nature hasn't done it for you, give your garden some deep soakings before the ground freezes.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
The best thing you can do for any plant in the garden is to add a layer of mulch, be it leaves, compost, or wood chips. Aim for a layer measuring three to five inches deep. Think of mulch as an insulating blanket, one that will help mitigate extreme temperature fluctuations and retain moisture. Yes, compost has nutrients, so adding it may seem contrary to the direction to stop using fertilizer, but compost is quite gentle and releases nutrients slowly enough to not be a cause for concern no matter when you add it. Make sure to keep a margin around the base of the plant free of mulch to prevent rot. One word of caution: never mulch bearded iris, as their rhizomes are particularly susceptible to rot.
If you're pushing the limits of hardiness with certain plants in your garden, set them up for success this winter by keeping them extra warm. Make a small cage out of chicken wire (tomato cages work too) and surround the plant. Fill it with chopped leaves. It's not the prettiest, but it's the most protected. Be sure to do this once the ground is frozen to prevent creating a hibernation hotel for rodents.
Special Care for Roses
To get your roses ready for winter, stop fertilizing them in August and avoid deadheading them after Labor Day. This allows them to shut down and form hips (engorged seed pods) before winter. Once freezing temps set in, reduce damage from freeze and thaw cycles by hilling soil, compost, or shredded evergreens eight to ten inches deep around the base of the plant. Loosely tie canes of climbers together with twine to prevent any damage from winter gusts. Alternatively, you can remove climbers from their supports, lay them on the ground, and cover them with several inches of soil. Remove winter protection when new growth appears, sometime around March or April.