When temperatures turn chilly and plants start to sap, it’s time to get your garden ready for a long winter’s nap. Here are some basic tips for prepping your garden.
If you’ve got vegetables or flowering annuals, take an inventory of what worked and what didn’t, what you liked and what you might want to do differently next year.
Destroy any leaves or stems that are diseased or infested.
Gardening expert Ciscoe Morris says the key for putting your garden to bed is to not be too fastidious.
“Most plants let you know if they want to be pruned,” he says. “Any plants that turn slimy, like hosta, the minute I see those die back I get those out. Anything really ugly I’m just going to take out.”
Feed your feathered friends
Leave seed heads on perennials such as black-eyed Susan, coneflower, monarda, coreopsis, zinnia and others to provide visual interest to the garden as well as food for birds.
Allow some foliage to remain, even if it dries up. Grasses, evergreen perennials and salvias provide birds protection from wind and rain. They also harbor insects that give them a supplement to their winter diet.
“The best thing you can do is have bugs out there,” says Ciscoe. “Hummingbirds feed on bugs like mad in winter because they need all the nutrition they can get. There’s a lot more nutrition in bugs than in nectar.”
Don’t cut back lilies until all the foliage turns brown because that foliage is feeding the bulb.
Ciscoe has a trick for lilies or dahlias left in the ground.
“I cover those with fern fronds… cut the fronds off evergreen ferns and put those six inches to a foot deep and put a stone on top,” he says.
Most of the bulbs that die usually do so because they rot from winter rain. The fern fronds repel enough water so they don’t rot.
Ciscoe recommends devising a way to mark where your bulbs are located so you don’t damage them when you start your spring planting.
“Marking where you’ve got them can be a wise thing to do to save you from destroying the bulbs,” says Ciscoe.
“A fun thing to do with your kids is have them paint ‘don’t dig here’ on a stone,” he says. “Put those stones wherever you’ve got a bulb so in the spring you won’t be skewering your bulbs when you plant.”
Time to mulch
Add a protective layer of mulch to your garden. Organic mulch can help protect roots from freezes, suppress weed growth and reduce compaction caused by rain pounding bare ground.
Leaves can be shredded to provide mulch for gardens but leaves left on the lawn can suffocate grass so be sure to rake.
Ciscoe recommends getting wood chips from an arborist.
“Woody mulch breaks down and really improves the soil,” says Ciscoe. “It’s a big help.”
“There’s a website, ChipDrop.com,” he says. “Go to that and ask them to drop their chips in your garden.”
ChipDrop will find local tree companies working in your area and notify them that you would like wood chips. When their truck is full they can pull up your information through their service and deliver the wood chips to your location.
For mulching perennial garden or vegetable bed, compost is a better choice because it’s packed with microorganisms and minerals needed for healthy growth.
Protect plants from deep freeze
Mulch may protect your semi-hardy plants but if temperatures dip into the 20s or colder you could lose them. Ciscoe recommends either digging them up and putting them in an unheated garage or covering them with sheets or tarps. These must be removed when temperatures moderate to prevent suffocation.
Charley’s Greenhouse in Mount Vernon offers a product called Frost Protek, a porous cover that allows air, water and light to penetrate while increasing the temperature around the plant by up to 8 degrees.
“I leave them on all winter,” says Ciscoe. “When I remove the covers in spring, sometimes the plants look like a boxer that’s been in the ring too long, but they come right back.”
Nonhardy plants like geraniums can be put in a cool room such as an unheated garage by a window.
“Water them just when they droop,” says Ciscoe. “They sail through winter if I do that. I do that with a few nonhardy plants.”
Finally, plant your spring bulbs. Crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips will make your garden come alive with color to celebrate the end of winter.