Thursday, October 10, 2013

Guest Post: Tips for Preparing Your Garden for Winter

The wind has turned colder, leaves are changing color, and the kids are back in school - it’s time to put your garden to sleep. Preparing your garden for winter is an important element of any fall lawn care regimen. When you winterize your garden, you make sure your flowering plants and vegetables are ready to withstand the frosts and frigid temperatures of winter. It includes mowing late into the season, covering beds in mulch, planning your spring garden, composting and more. Whether you’re looking to extend the growing season for your veggies or make sure your perennials and bulbs resurface in spring, these tips to prepare your garden for winter will put you on the right path.
Clean up flower beds
The first step when preparing your garden for winter is to remove dead plant matter and pull weeds from your flower beds. Dead stems can harbor insect eggs or spread disease, so it’s important to pull up old vines and any dead vegetables as the cooler weather sets in. Cut your perennial stems down near the ground and compost the clippings, too. Then, pull up weeds and trash or burn them – avoid composting weeds as this can spread them in your garden. This goes for any diseased foliage as well. Next, rake leaves from your yard and beds and include them in your compost pile.

Create new beds and plan for spring as you winterize your garden  
If you’re planning a new vegetable garden or new beds, lay down newsprint, compost and cardboard to eliminate the lawn over the winter. In the spring, you’ll use your garden tiller to loosen the soil and incorporate fertilizer, but you have to eliminate grass and weeds in the fall if you want to plant in the spring.

If you already have a garden, at the end of the growing season, remove dead vegetables and leaves and toss them in your compost pile. Till the earth, adding compost on the second pass, and sow a cover crop like rye.

Another great way to prepare for spring is to plant annual bulbs. Make sure they are planted at the right depth and covered with compost, mulch and evergreen boughs to prevent shifting and cracking of soil throughout the winter. Finally, collect seeds and clippings from your favorite annuals and set them aside or start them in your house to prepare for spring planting.

Divide and conquer
Everything you do when you winterize your garden is done to ensure it looks great the following spring. Throughout this year, you may have noticed some of your plants aren’t flowering as much, or are growing in clumps. At least six weeks before the first frost, divide these perennials and replant them in other areas of your garden. Timing is important to give the roots time to grow in their new spot before the frost.

Mow till there’s almost snow
Well, frost anyway. After harsh summer heat and drought, your lawn will recover in early fall. Keep mowing throughout the fall as long as your grass is still growing. Plus, mowing with your garden tractor until just before the first frost will help you avoid a long lawn that mattes under snow, causing disease and damage throughout the winter. Keep the cut setting on your garden tractor set high and don’t mow too often to avoid scalping, which can kill your lawn immediately or leave it susceptible to disease. When you do finally store you garden tractor, make sure you properly prepare it by changing the oil, adding StaBil to the gas and sharpening the lawn mower blades.

Winterize garden beds, young shrubs and trees
The last step to prepare your garden for winter is to cover your beds, shrubs and trees, starting with mulch. Despite what you may think, mulch isn’t spread over beds to keep them warm in winter, it’s done to maintain the temperature. Most plant roots can survive the cold, but become damaged if temperatures fluctuate between warm and cold. A thick layer (6 inches) of winter mulch over a 3-4 inch covering of compost will help maintain the temperature. Spread the mulch after the first frost to avoid burrowing rodents making your beds their home.

Use burlap or another garden fabric to cover the base of young trees and the tops of your shrubs to keep out the chill and hungry deer and rabbits. You can also use burlap to cover vegetables in case of an early frost. With all the plants in your garden covered and cozy, you can rest easy as your garden hibernates until spring.


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