Halloween is over and fall is starting to wrap up. If your plants are still going strong, it’s only a few weeks before the cold weather starts raining havoc on living things. Whether you live in Maine or New Mexico, the winter season will create an opportunity to form a healthy foundation for next year’s plants. Learning to use the winter months as a preparatory time will help your flowers, trees, and vegetables become better than ever.
1. Determine what plants you would like to keep, and which you would like to toss.
Many perennials, or plants that stay alive through the winter and regrow in the spring, are planted with the intent of staying in the ground. Other plants, like many garden vegetables, will die during the winter.
Honestly, you really don’t have to move anything if you’re feeling rather lazy. The plants that die will slowly compost into your soil. However, there is a chance that they won’t, and then you’ll have a mess in the spring. Tilling and preparing the soil in the spring will be far easier if you take the time to do it in the fall.
Examples of common perennials are sage, aster, baby’s breath, hosta, lily turf, creeping wintergreen, asparagus, rhubarb, and garlic. When planting these initially, make sure you pick a location that you want them to stay. You can transplant them in the early winter if you wish.
2. Remove the dead plants from the garden, and cut back your perennials.
Cut off any dead sections or dying leaves from perennial plants. Once you have a hard frost, cut back your perennials a few inches. This helps the plant grow fuller in the spring.
Annual plants should be removed and placed in compost. If you have not started a compost, now’s a great time to start! The most basic model is to create a large pile somewhere in the yard or in a barrel. Then just let it break down. Removing the dead plants simply allows your soil to be ready for spring planting, and gives you options to do winter gardening (read about that below).
Sometimes seed will fall into your soil and start growing in the spring. Sometimes I let these seeds go for it, and other times I remove them and consider them a weed. It depends on whether you want that particular plant around.
Remove dead leaves, pine needles, twigs, etc. and place into that new composting pile you just created!
Note about composting: If you use weed killers on your grass, do not place those clippings onto the compost pile. The weed killer could also kill your plants.
3. Determine if you will have a winter garden.
There are lots of great things you can grow in your winter garden. One option is storing “winter” vegetables under the soil to keep them fresh until they are needed. These vegetables would need to have a generous layer of mulch or compost on top to keep them from freezing. Placing after the first frost will keep mice and rodents out of your garden for the winter. Four inches should do the trick. Examples of these types of plants are cabbage, potatoes, and onions.
Additionally, some plants like to be planted in the fall. These would be garlic or other plants with “bulbs.” Bulbs are just a type of seed. Planting these before a hard frost occurs will allow you to actually dig up the soil.
Whether you grow in the winter or not, I would recommend removing the plants and tilling the soil. This allows for oxygen to enter and keep your soil from becoming frozen.
4. If you do not want a winter garden…
If you will not be gardening, or these is a portion without plants, you may want to consider using a cover crop. This just means planting a small plant that will allow your soil to be “renewed.” Planting a legume will allow your soil to have nitrogen added into the soil. Probably the easiest type is clover. These little plants will be tilled into your garden to add additional nutrients. As a bonus, they can help stop erosion of your soil. Check out different varieties for your garden.
5. Other jobs you may consider…
The lawn could get over looked with all of your precious plants getting attention. However, fall is a great time to aerate the dirt. Since you’ll be all cuddled by the fire anyways (and not running around in the grass), this is a great time to check the chore off your list! Additionally, cutting the grass until it stops growing will help keep out brown spots in the spring. Reseeding and fertilizing will also help your lawn looking fresh for that first snow melt.
Many trees look like a tasty snack for hungry deer. Wrapping them in hardware cloth will help keep them out. Small trees should be wrapped with paper to keep their trunks from cracking.
Many rose bushes will need to be covered with mulch as well (remember those other plants that need mulch covering?) However you’ll need to place a barrier around the bush, and then fill it to the brim with mulch.
Transplanting large perennials in the fall is a great way to help their roots take hold. This can allow them to have a healthier start in the spring.
Cleaning, storing, and removing water from your tools (especially hoses), will help them from cracking in the cold weather. Potentially sharping these tools will help with ease of use.
If you have been gardening for a few seasons, you may want to use a soil test on your dirt. This will see if you need to add anything to help your soil nutrients. If you till in compost each year, and vary your crops, this should not be a major problem. You may want to consider adding some fertilizer or the mineral lime.
Have a question about your winter preparations? Leave a comment below.