It’s that time of the year again. I personally am already getting into “hunkering down” mode. As much as I love gardening, I also enjoy cozying up and dreaming about the next growing season. One necessary step on the road to hibernation is putting your garden to sleep and tuck it in well.
This is a perfect time to debrief your garden and take stock. What did well in the past growing season? What didn’t work? Which plants died, which are taking over the garden bed? Certain plants will have done so well that they should be divided to rejuvenate them, while others may need to be moved to a different spot for optimal growing conditions. Whatever the case may be, it’s fun to spend some of those long winter evenings with a plant catalog or a gardening book and plot for spring. You might even want to draw up a little plan to visualize your ideas.
Make sure your plants don’t go to sleep in a messy room. Remove all spent, diseased, and dead plant material. This is crucial to prevent pest larvae, fungal spores, and diseases from cozying up under a protective layer of plant debris, where they would doubtlessly plot garden bed dominion.
Know your invasive plants and noxious weeds and remove them. If you compost your yard waste, be sure not to add your weeds to the pile, but instead dispose of them (especially the seed pods or berries) in the trash. Likewise, diseased plant material should ideally not go in your compost.
Tuck them in:
Speaking of compost: a 1-2 inch layer of compost makes a nice, cozy blanket for your beds and borders. Over time, with winter rains and snow melt, nutrients will leach into the soil and prepare it for a successful new growing season.
Mulching will add a protective layer. Just like in summer, it helps stabilize soil moisture as well as temperatures, and thus helps prevent a condition called frost heave, which can cause severe root damage. You want to apply 2 inches of mulch as soon as the soil is frozen. Make sure not to mulch all the way up to or over your plants.
I’d like to particularly point out the benefits of leaf mulch/leafmold. After all, they’re right there! Why spend a lot of money on mulch if you have a high quality source of nutrients such as calcium and magnesium already lying on the ground? It’s critical, however, to shred them up first. This will not only speed up decomposition, but also prevent the leaves from becoming one solid moldy layer that won’t let water penetrate into the root zone. You can shred them up easily with your lawn mower or special leaf shredders. Or you can have me do it for you!
Mommy, Daddy, I’m thirsty:
Give your garden a good drink of water before it goes to sleep. Especially evergreens need to be well hydrated before and in between those killing frosts. The main damage these plants suffer over the winter is not frost damage per se, but rather winter desiccation. The plants continue to lose moisture through their needles. If this moisture isn’t replenished, the needles will turn brown and dieback will occur. Water loss is further accelerated on warmer days and/or in windy conditions.
Send your trees and shrubs well hydrated into their winter break, and don’t store away your watering hose in the very back of your garage. Occasional deep watering (slowly trickling water for an hour or so) during late fall and winter, in periods when the soil isn’t frozen, is important. If you’d like to keep an eye on rainfall quantities, here’s a valuable resource.
As ever, if you have any questions on getting your garden ready for winter, or any other garden-related questions, I’ll be happy to hear from you!
The Green Thumb