Final prepping of the garden for winter

By Lynette L. Walther | Nov 30, 2018
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Buds form on rhododendrons during the summer, and these evergreen shrubs can benefit from winter protection. Rhododendrons and other such shrubs can suffer freeze-drying from harsh winter wind. A burlap wrap will helpto  protect the foliage and buds too.

Frost has frozen and snow has fallen, and our gardens slumber until next spring. For the most part, our job is done. But as those winter winds blow, some plants may be susceptible to windburn, and with snow, tree branches can break or bend. By winterizing our landscapes, we can make certain that winter's sleep remains calm, contributing to a healthy landscape year-round.

Many plants develop their full cold-hardiness when they mature, so younger, more tender ones may need a couple of years to reach their full cold-hardy potential. Providing those susceptible and younger plants a bit of winter protection will help them weather the season. And by planting native plants, we gain an extra edge on cold-hardiness as well. The right garden maintenance, protecting plants, cleanup of containers, garden furniture and tool storage, and lawn care done now will lighten the workload come spring, when everything will be ready to bounce into action. Many will have already completed the list, but here’s a final check to cover all the bases.

• Protect perennials, shrubs and trees:

Perennials should be trimmed back by about two thirds, leaving enough stems to form a protective circle around the base of the plant. For shrubs and trees, trim weak or spindly branches that might be damaged with snow load, as well as branches that cross over or under other branches. Wind can cause these to rub and do damage. For roses, trim only long canes that might snap, and mound the base of plants with manure or compost.

Delicate evergreens and newly planted shrubs and small trees can be wrapped with burlap. Winter winds can dry and dehydrate them. Weak, brittle or floppy branches, or those with leaves that are easily damaged, should be wrapped with breathable fabric. An anti-transpirant can protect evergreens from drying winter winds when applied to the leaves, it reduces moisture loss and defends against dehydration and windburn.

To shield a row of shrubs, either wrap the entire row or create a windbreak on the windward side with a length of protective fabric or dense shade cloth supported by sturdy stakes.

Continue to water young and recently planted trees and shrubs until the ground freezes, if there isn’t sufficient rainfall in the meantime. A heavy mulch can help retain moisture. All plants will benefit from one last deep watering if conditions have been especially dry. This extra moisture will help plants survive the winter.

Build covers or “teepees” to protect plants that grow under eave lines. The teepee structures will help deflect the extra load and prevent branches from breaking.

• Overall garden maintenance:

This is one of the most important times to weed, and getting rid of those stubborn last weeds is vital. Weeding can eliminate hundreds of overwintering seeds that would be waiting to sprout in spring.

Remove leaves and other debris from lawns and beds to decrease the potential for overwintering pests and diseases. In addition, thick layers of leaves left in ornamental beds over the winter will deter spring-flowering bulbs and perennial sprouts. Dry leaves can be shredded and used as mulch or added to the compost. Simply run over them with a lawnmower or run through a leaf shredder. This simple process will help prevent leaves from packing together in layers that can also block air and water from reaching the soil.

Empty large planters and containers, wash and store in a garage, basement or barn. Add old potting soil to compost. Clean garden furniture, paint if necessary and store out of the weather. Clean hand tools, oil and sharpen, and store indoors. Clean power mowers as well, removing all grass clinging underneath; if left it can promote rust. Sharpen the blade, change the oil and store.

Lawn care

Cut the grass short for one final mowing, at about two to three inches. This helps to prevent disease and fungus once the grass is covered with snow.

Now is the perfect time to add lime. Pelletized lime is easy to apply with a fertilizer spreader or by hand. Lime makes soil more alkaline, unlocking nutrients like nitrogen in the soil, to enable the grass to take it up once it gets growing in the spring. The freeze-thaw cycle of winter helps break down the pellets and work the lime into the soil, and on average it takes about six months for an application of pelletized lime to become effective.

Sit back, relax and find a good book to read, because you’ve got your landscape all set up for success in the spring and you deserve a long rest.

After that last mowing of the season, thoroughly wash under the deck of the power mower before servicing it for the winter. Don’t forget to sharpen the blade, too. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Pelletized lime applied now will give lawns a head start next spring by unlocking the nutrients in the soil. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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