Anyone with even the most basic understanding of gardening knows you do your planting in spring. Something about April showers bringing May flowers, right? But there are also a number of things you can do post-spring to prepare your garden for the winter months.
“A little attention to your landscape in the fall can make it look great the rest of the year,” said MSN. “You might think getting your lawn and garden ready for winter is as simple as Robert Frost’s line to his apple trees: ‘Good-by, and keep cold.’ But not if you want them to be their healthiest come spring. In many parts of the country, now — that is, before it gets too chilly — is prime time to tend to your landscape so it will shine the rest of the year.”
Of course, in many parts of California, the temperature won’t dip low enough to warrant heavy-duty winterizing and flowers like poppies can bring color all year round. (but it’s still nice to be prepared!). A few easy tips can help your garden withstand harsh winter weather and even thrive if (and when) the temps dip.
1. Clean Up
Cleaning up any debris and tidying up is important at this time of year. “Before the ground gets too hard, remove all weeds and debris and eliminate overwintering sites for insects and disease,” said Almanac. Clean out perennials by cutting back dry stems, said Better Homes and Gardens. Cutting off “diseased foliage from evergreen plants and shrubs” and raking up and discarding old mulch can help keep disease away.
2. Cover Up
If you’re in a climate where the temperatures regularly move into the freezing zone, it’s important to cover your garden and provide protection to trees and shrubs. “To prep your garden for winter, plant a nitrogen-rich cover crop like clover that you can simply turn under come spring,” said MSN. “Or, cover the beds in burlap to keep the weeds down.”
For trees, Better Homes and Gardens recommends protecting “the tender bark…from gnawing critters by wrapping stems or trunks with wire or commercial tree-guard products.
It’s the dry wind that can be the enemy of evergreens. “Burlap screens or shade cloth shelters” can help, said Better Homes and Gardens.
Mulching may be the single most important you do in your garden depending on weather conditions in your area in winter. “Most likely, the organic mulch you spread to protect the soil during the summer months has substantially decomposed. It’s important to spread new mulch now — a thicker winter layer — to protect plants and soil over the winter months,” said Better Homes and Gardens. “The idea is not so much to keep the soil warm as it is to keep the temperature even. Once the soil is frozen, mulch keeps it frozen. So if you have shade trees, convert the fallen leaves to mulch and use it throughout your property.”
Mulch can also protect trees from winter weather, said MSN, but put it too close, and it can give critters like “voles, chipmunks and mice” free reign during the winter months. Better Homes and Gardens suggests a three-inch-deep mulch cover.
Mulch should also be “renewed in flower beds, especially the top two or three inches of plants’ root crowns, because that protects a marginal plant from hard freezes,” said MSN. “That’s where all of your new growth is going to come back.”
Think you’re done planting until spring rolls around? Not so, says MSN. “Don’t tuck in the vegetable garden yet. “There are some great fall vegetables you can plant and still get a harvest. Many vegetables aren’t affected by a light evening frost, so long as the days still warm up nicely. Greens like lettuce and spinach often can be harvested within 30 days of planting. Got even more time before Jack Frost really settles in? Think about carrots, broccoli or Swiss chard.”
Now may also be the time to plant bulbs for next year.
“Ideally, bulbs should be planted at least six weeks before hard, ground-freezing frost can be expected in your area,” said HGTV. “The bulbs need time to root and establish themselves. On the other hand, planting bulbs too early can lead to fungus or disease problems. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs when the average nighttime temperatures in your area are in the 40- to 50-degree range. At that point the soil temperature should be just perfect for tucking bulbs in for their winter’s rest underground. In warmer climates you may need to plant bulbs in December (or even later).”