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Tips for Putting Your Gardens to Bed for the Winter

September 15, 2016 3 min read

Once the gardening season is in our rear view mirror there remains a few tasks that we should consider to enhance the performance of our landscapes.  Some are to-do things, others are don’t do and yet others are wait until.  Let’s take a look at a number of fall gardening tasks and sort out what may be important for you to know. 

Lawns will continue to grow well into November so we will be cutting for quite some time yet.  As able, keep the falling leaves off the grass to allow for healthy turf growth.  This is an ideal time to improve your lawn and there are many reliable methods depending on your circumstances.  This is the time to over-seed spare lawns, core aerate lawns on compact soils, thatch lawns and, of course, fertilize turf.  Consider organic lawn food that feeds the grass as well as beneficial microbes in your soil.  This is also an ideal time to use liquid lawn weed killers (Weed-Beater Ultra) to fight pesky lawn weeds that grow so prolifically in fall and are not reliably controlled with granular products.      

Your veggie garden may be finishing up for 2016 but now is the time to plan for a better and easier harvest next season.  Cleaning out weeds and dead plants now are the best way to have a cleaner garden next year.  If you plan on planting early spring crops (peas, potatoes or lettuce) you will want to prepare (till) these garden areas now avoiding having to work in (and damaging) wet spring soils.  Fall is also an ideal time to add organic compost to your veggie garden feeding your soil with beneficial microbes. 

Trees and shrubs should not be pruned until later this fall (Thanksgiving) once they are completely dormant.  This will then become an ideal time to thin evergreen hedges and provide structural pruning of trees.   

After a heavy frost, most all perennials can be cut back to the ground.  Exceptions would include woody sub-shrubs like Buddleia, Lavender, Russian Sage, Thyme and Roses.  Other evergreen perennials like Coral Bells, Euphorbia and Bergenia will remain attractive all winter long and should not be pruned until spring.  Ornamental grasses can be cut in fall, and often are, to reduce the inevitable shedding that occurs during winter however most of us keep these grasses until spring for their winter show.  Evergreen grasses and grass like plants (CarexLiriopeshould not be cut back until spring. 

Some plants that are continuously attacked by harmful insects can be treated in fall to provide an entire years’ worth of protection.  Rhododendron, Azalea, Pieris japonica, Magnolia, Birch, Viburnum and Dogwoods are just a few of the trees/shrubs commonly damaged by harmful insects.  Tree and Shrub Insect Control applied now will keep creepy critters off your prized landscape specimens.   

Fuzzy critters can also be an issue during the winter months.  Wrapping shrubs in burlap or netting may be necessary if you have frequent deer browse issues.  A less recognized pest is voles that feed on plant roots and bark during the winter.  Trapping or using bait now for these harmful pests will help keep their populations under control. 

Leaves will be falling soon and cleaning them off the lawn and out of the beds is important for many reasons.  These leaves can provide a winter home for rodents and harmful insects and can also choke out turf and perennial plants.   

Many plants may benefit from winter protection from sun, wind and salt spray.  Consider burlap screens for broad leaf evergreens like Boxwood, Holly, Azaleas and Rhododendron that may be in windy locations.  Plants installed late in the fall may not have the opportunity to adequately root in and may benefit from an additional layer of mulch later in November.  Protect the trunks of young trees from buck (deer) rubbing that occurs this time of year.  Plastic wraps and/or tubes provide effective protection from deer.  Tree trunks can also be damaged by rabbits feeding on bark in winter.  A cardboard tree wrap is utilized for this purpose. Salt spray carried off roads during windy days will damage nearly any plant it comes in contact with.  Burlap screens and/or protective sprays (Wilt-Stop) can save plants in these exposed situations.   

One of the most common situations for plant failure over the winter is due to excessively dry soil conditions.  This would be especially common for evergreen plants, plants installed late in the season and plants located under overhangs.  Be sure to provide supplemental irrigation to these plants before you put your hoses away and/or turn off your outdoor water spigots.   

The change in seasons is one of things I love most about our part of the world but with it comes some challenges for us as gardeners and plant lovers.  It can be such a disappointment to lose a beautiful plant, especially when we could have done something to prevent the loss.  While we can’t expect our landscape plants to last forever, I hope these tips will help you to better know what you can do to put the odds forever in your favor.   

Now go outside and have fun in the dirt.

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