What you need to do to prepare your garden for winter
Well its fall once again, which means winter is not very far away. And as always, there is much we can do in our gardens to prepare for winter, as well as get a jump on even some springtime work. Now I realize that most people don’t have an extensive vegetable garden. Maybe you don’t even have a large flower garden. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to own only a few flower pots and window boxes. None the less, I will try to touch base on a bit of it all.
Now is the time to clean up your garden. Remove all the plants that have finished producing for the year. You may still have fall crops like brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage etc, those are probably not done yet, and can handle a light frost or two. If you’ve had any problems with bugs/insects, make sure you do not compost your spent plants as you will end up increasing your problem the following year. So pull them up by the roots and discard them properly. Also remove all the weeds you can find, this way they don’t get an early start in the spring.
If you have any herbs in your garden, the best thing would be to bring them into the house for the winter. Simply dig them up (make sure to go deep enough so that you don’t disturb the roots too much) and plant them into a pot. They should be placed in a bright sunny spot inside, and then you can enjoy fresh herbs all winter. There are some herbs that may come back in the spring if left outside; those are mint, chives, thyme, oregano, sage and parsley. I can attest to the chives, oregano and parsley as those have come back in my garden often. It’s never a 100% they will come back, and it will also depend on the kind of winter we have. Either way, you should cut them down before the cold sets in and enjoy them while you can!
Once you have cleaned up your garden, you can add your compost, fertilizer, mulch etc. Whatever your normal routine is for the springtime, you can do in the fall. By doing this, the nutrients have time to break down enriching your soil and it becomes “biologically active”. Also if you till your soil in the spring, you can certainly do so in the fall instead (though I would probably do it once again in the spring). By doing all this, you will save time in the spring when you want to get in there and start planting as soon as you can!
Flower beds, window boxes, potted flowers
If you have a flower bed, or window boxes, or pots outside, it is also time to clean those up as well. I know it is the end of September, and you could probably wait another week or two, but if you want to keep any of your outdoor flowers, you have to make sure to do so before we get a good frost. Not all types of flowers do well over the winter inside, and I am sure that unless you have a greenhouse, you probably have limited space in which to keep them. Here are some popular plants that do fairly well inside over the winter: Coleus, Fuchsias, New Guinea Impatiens, Begonias, Oxalis and Geraniums. There maybe a few other types, but these are the most common ones. When you transplant these, make sure to wash off the plants (not the roots) gently with a garden hose (or in the sink/bathtub under a tap). You merely want to make sure you don’t bring in any pesky insects or bugs that may be hiding on your plants. Be sure to wash the leaves off, on top and underneath where insects tend to hide. They will do best placed in a bright window (south facing or east facing windows if possible) Do not fertilize during the winter as your plants are dormant and do not require it. Watering will depend on the size of pot, and how hot and dry your house is. Just remember that less is usually better, so as not to rot the roots, and you can always add water if needed. Keep them inside until spring and the risk for frost is gone, then plant back outside.
Once you have removed the plants you wish to keep (if any), then it is time to remove all the rest of them. Again, you can add them to your compost if you are sure they do not have any infestations on them. Or simply get rid of them, roots and all. After all the flowers and weeds have been removed, add some compost, fertilizer etc and turn the soil. This will enrich your soil and come spring time you’re good to go. If you have window boxes, or pots, I would suggest that you remove all your plants and the soil as well, thus allowing you to clean the boxes/pots properly of any fungus or insects that may be lurking there. Also the soil that is in your window boxes or pots, probably have a much depleted supply of nutrients. This way, come springtime, a fresh batch of nutrient filled soil can be used making your flowers happy and strong.
Dealing with trees, shrubs perennials and bulbs
Fall is the perfect time for planting new trees and shrubs. The weather is cool and the ground still warm enough for your roots to develop. You should check with the place you buy your tree or shrub to find out the size (depth and width) needed for that particular plant as there are many factors involved with that. As with all new plantings, make sure it gets adequate watering until the weather gets too cold to do so. By planting in the fall, you have less worry about the plant drying out, wilting in the heat, and even the bugs/insects are diminished.
This is also the time of year for splitting your hostas and peonies. I will tell you from experience, that this is hard work. Both of these plants have somewhat shallow root balls, that when dug up, can be split (you may have to cut into them to divide them). Hostas are very strong and are almost foolproof to deal with, but require more muscle to split. Simply figure out the size you want the new plant to be, cut them and plant them in a spot with bright – medium light. Water them well for the first few weeks, and even if they don’t look like they will make it at first, they more than likely will be just fine.
Peonies are also easy to transplant, but do not plant these more than 2” above the buds on the roots. You can clearly see the buds on the top of the roots once you have lifted it out of the garden. If you accidently burry them, no worries, the plant will survive, but you may not get any flowers for a couple of years, and who likes that idea!! So be careful on how deep you plant them. Also water these well, until the first frost.
Then of course we have bulbs, tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, etc. These should also be planted in the fall. I suggest you do this as late in the season as possible, so that the squirrels and other critters have less time to dig them up. There is much literature on how to keep them from going after your bulbs, I personally have not heard of any that truly work well. Tulips are one of the more sought after bulb, while they normally stay away from daffodils and grape hyacinths as these bulbs can be harmful when eaten. As a basic rule for planting your bulbs, always plant pointy side up, and generally plant them 2-3 times deeper than the bulb size. So if your bulb is 1 inch, plant 2-3 inches deep (as an example). There are always exceptions, so be sure to check before planting. After planting, like everything, water the area well.
So that’s about it for now. I hope it helps some of you out there that love to garden as much as I do.