Julie Martens Forney

Gardens Change Throughout the Seasons

Get your landscape ready for the big chill by winterizing your garden. Tackling winter prep chores outdoors before temperatures tumble too far is a great way to squeeze in a little exercise and get a jump on next year’s garden. Everything you do toward winterizing your garden in fall helps smooth the way for a healthy, beautiful growing season next year.

Winter-hardy plants prepare for cold weather through a process called hardening off. This gradual change from lively growth to dormancy occurs in response to environmental signals, like changing temperature and day length. Even though plants enter dormancy, there are things you can do to help ensure they survive whatever winter brings. That’s where winterizing your garden comes in.

In chill-prone areas, the winterizing process actually begins in late summer to early autumn by withholding fertilizer. Growing plants lean as chilly weather arrives. This helps prevent them from initiating excessive new growth that won’t have adequate time to harden off before winter. Growth that doesn’t harden off winds up zapped by cold and can make plants vulnerable to other problems.

Before frost arrives, it’s important to water landscape plants well if rain has been scarce. Well-hydrated plants aren’t stressed, which means they’re healthier. Healthier plants survive winter better.

One aspect of winterizing your garden is adding a mulch layer around plants to help insulate soil and protect plants from frost heave. Use a loose, non-compacting material for mulch, like chopped autumn leaves, shredded bark, pine straw, chopped cornstalks or straw.

Before mulching, take a few minutes to clean up any plant debris, especially beneath disease-prone plants like roses. Old stems and leaves that remain in place through winter can provide hiding places for diseases and pests. Gathering debris helps give problem critters the boot.

Applying mulch is a key part of winterizing strawberries. Wait to add mulch to these plants until days are reliably in the 20-degree range or, in a mild-winter region, when soil temperature drops to 40° F for three consecutive days. Winterizing rose bushes requires a mound of soil over plant crowns before you add mulch. Allow the soil mound to freeze before mulching over it.

Winterizing a lawn mostly involves applying a special fertilizer, usually called a winterizer fertilizer, to lawns comprised of cool-season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, fescue or perennial ryegrass. Correctly timing the fertilizer application is critical. Get fertilizer on grass sometime in October or November. Discover the precise timing for your area from your local extension office.


Getting Your Garden Ready For Winter 10 photos

Winterizing your garden also involves rounding up plant covers for winter frost protection. Gather frost blankets, old sheets or cloth tablecloths and have them at the ready as temperatures start to fall. Use frost blankets to cover crops in a winter vegetable garden, to protect winter container gardens and to help tender plants survive a cold snap.

Don’t forget to winterize your water garden. The most important thing is not to let your pump freeze. Check with your landscape installer or a local garden center that specializes in water gardens to learn if you can allow water to run all winter long in your region.

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