Prepare Your Garden For Winter
Autumn is a fantastic time for gardening. Take advantage of our warm soil temperatures which run 60 degrees and warmer. There is plenty of time to plant perennial shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, winter annuals, and spring flowering bulbs. Following some basic fall garden tips will yield major results in not just how your yard looks in autumn, but how well it performs year-round.
- Whenever planting, add compost and Bio-Tone Plus fertilizer to establish bacterial and mycorrhizal fungi populations in the rhizosphere (root zone) to assist plants in establishing themselves. “Fall is for Planting”
- Aerate ornamental beds, perennial gardens, and around trees and shrubs with an “earth auger.” Drill 6” to 8” deep for larger shrubs and trees, 2” to 4” for more shallow rooted plants. Roots need oxygen and aeration holes help. Apply Bio-Tone Plus to the holes to inoculate your plants.
- Remove all damaged, dead, diseased branches, foliage, stems, leaves, and the like. This will help clean and sanitize your plants by removing insects and diseases as well as improve the appearance of your yard. Weed out unwanted plants.
- Harvest the remainder of your vegetables and pull out spent plants (other than root crops). If you had early or late blights discard the debris, otherwise compost it for use next year in your garden beds.
- Add soil amendments, organic fertilizer, lightly till (Garden Weasel or Claw works great), and cover with wheat straw. If you get wheat germination – that’s OK, just turn into the soil in the spring.
- It’s ok to prune woody plants once they’ve gone dormant, just be careful not to prune off wood that has flower buds. Think rhododendrons and azaleas, lilac, flowering dogwood, etc. Anything that is a spring flowering plant, avoid any radical pruning which would remove next year’s flower. It’s OK to prune out dead, weak or diseased branches. Gentle reshaping is fine.
- Mow lawns to a shorter height that usual, 1 ½ inches or so, reduces the likelihood of winter diseases, and makes leaf removal far easier. Do not leave leaves on the lawn!
- Core-aerate and apply a winterizing fertilizer. Apply a “weed-n-feed winterizing formula” if there are a lot of perennial weed present. Autumn is the best time to kill stubborn weeds. If not, over-seed with our Van Putte Country Side Mixture to enhance the quality of your lawn.
- Cut back and divide perennials when necessary, usually every three years on clumping plants as they enlarge in diameter. Leave a “short stubble” to identify their crown’s location next spring.
- Add an extra layer of warmth by mulching your plants with a light weight, breathable material like straw or Cedar bark. Do not use maple leaves or the like as they tend to compress. Many decorative mulches do not adequately insulate the root zone during the cold winter months. Mulch should insulate and prevent “freeze-thaw-cycles” that damage roots while allowing oxygen to penetrate down to the root.
- Build chicken wire frames or cages to hold straw around roses, hydrangeas and other potentially cold sensitive plants.
- Protect plants from sun scald and winter cracking by white washing the trunks of thin barked fruit trees or wrapping with tree wrap. Spray antidesiccants (Wilt Stop) on evergreen foliage, branches and canes to lock in vital moisture and help prevent winter injury.
- Apply deer repellents or plastic netting to woody shrubs and trees that attract deer browsing. Apply granular repellents around shrubs and trees that are prone to vole and or field mouse damage. Apply mole repellents or poisons to lawn and garden areas that are prone to moles.
- Clean and empty all water retaining vessels like gutters, unheated birdbaths, plant containers and saucers, hoses, irrigation systems, tires, and water water fountains.
- Setup heated birdbaths and feeding stations for your feathered overwintering friends.
- Clean, sharpen, and then oil all your garden tools; pruners, loppers, trowels, weeders, etc. Put an edge on hoes and shovels, they’ll perform much better.
I like to say that hour’s work in the fall is worth a day’s work in the spring. Tackling some of these recommended “chores” now will save you time and headaches in the spring. It will help your plants come through the cold Rochester winters unscathed. Feel free to stop by Van Putte Gardens with any questions you may have about preparing your yard for winter.
Success with you Gardening, Naturally!
Written by Rick Stecher
Garden Center Manager