As temperature drops, all activities in the garden seize, turning the land a dull gray. The plants are starting to prepare themselves for dormancy and not a lot is going on in your garden once the soil freezes. The transition from fall to winter season leads to unpredictable rains that could damage your plants. That’s why it’s important to prepare your garden before the winter season. So how do you protect your plants from the frigid cold? Consider these gardening tips:
Winter Prep for Perennial Plants
Perennial plants grow back each year, even in the bitterest winter season. As the weather transitions to winter, perennials will hibernate, turning dormant at a constant temperature until the warm weather comes around again. It’s a good thing that perennial plants are much easier to prep for winter than annual plants. Although perennial plants have different growing habits, they just need a little cutting back and mulching before the winter season.
In places that get warm-winters, the fall season is the best time to plant perennial plants. But since perennials grow slowly during the cold, wet season, the plants are vulnerable to diseases and rot. Always check the plants for signs of disease and pests.
Perennials have to be cut back to keep the plants neat as well as to remove diseased leaves or pest eggs. You can use the plant cuttings as hot compost materials (the active piles will kill pathogens and weed seeds). When cutting back the perennials, avoid cutting the stems with attractive seed heads.
The fall season is the best time to enrich the soil using compost. You want to add a 4 to 6-inch layer of organic compost around the beds. As the organic compost breaks down, the nutrients are released to the soil, improving the soil’s structure and nutrient profile. The slow release of nutrients prevents burns while also ensuring that the soil is nutrient-rich all winter long.
Mulching is a terrific way to prepare perennials for the bitter cold. This method protects the plants' root systems and the soil from the freezing temps. You can use shrub beds with chopped leaves, grass clippings, or pine needles for mulching. Mulching may attract nibbling rodents so to keep unwanted critters at bay, we recommend waiting until the ground freezes before adding a 6-inch layer of organic winter mulch.
For warm climate perennials, continue checking for pests and diseases during the winter season. Clean up the plant beds and borders then maintain or build new beds so you have room for new plants. For cool-climate perennials, mulch over the bare soil after the ground freezes. After the frost, clean the plant beds and borders then remove dead plants and weeds. You should also use cold frames to protect your hardy perennials from the chilly air.
Winter Prep for Annual Plants
Annuals need more TLC during the winter season because they cannot survive the cold. You should dig up your summer plants and use them for composting. For both warm and cool climate annuals, you should cover your plants with poly-spun garden fabric if there is a warning for a light frost. We also recommend collecting the seeds of your favorite plants that breed true to type.
Mulch your cool-climate annual plant beds with a 3 to 4 inches layer of chopped leaves, grass cuttings, and other compost materials. For self-sown seeds that will germinate in the spring, keep the mulch layer at 2 inches only. Then, label your annuals for next spring. Replace decomposed organic mulch. Finally, watch out for pests then continue removing the weeds and watering the plants.
Winter Prep for Bulbs
You want to dig up and clean the bulbs before the winter season sets in. Mulch your bulb beds with evergreen or in the case of shallowly planted bulbs; heave them to the surface of the soil. Store your bulbs in a breathable container to prevent rot. Use a cardboard box layered with newspaper. Make sure the bulbs are not touching one another then stow them away in a cool, dry place.
Winter Prep for Trees and Shrubs
For cool climate trees and shrubs, make sure to water them regularly and deeply before the ground freezes. This goes especially for evergreens. Young trees and shrubs need all the nutrients they can get so work the fertilizer to the ground. You may have to transfer young trees and shrubs to another location during the early fall.
Older trees and shrubs do not need the added fertilizer especially if they are mulched. Still, you want to shelter your shrubs with a burlap screen and other sturdy barriers to protect them from the elements. Once the ground freezes, add a 6-inch layer of organic mulch to your trees and shrubs.
Warm climate trees and shrubs become dormant as the winter season nears so stop feeding them to give them time to harden off during this period. Some types of warm climate trees are prone to fruit splitting such as citrus fruits and avocados. You can prevent this by watering the trees deeply especially if rain is sparse.
Some flowering shrubs, like camellias, could turn a dull brown as the cold season hits so disbud and water your flowering plants. Non-tropical trees and shrubs may require transplanting to other parts of the property. Prune your trees and shrubs regularly to keep your garden neat as the weather cools down.
More Gardening Tips for the Winter Season
Make a point to nourish the soil beginning October to November. If your lawn is still growing, continue cutting to lower the blades. This will help inhibit mold growth that could spread all over your garden during the winter months.
Want to lighten your gardening tasks for spring? Always keep your perennial beds neat and clean. Prune your plants, remove the dead leaves, and get rid of any unwanted garden debris, etc. You could also apply fresh mulch at this period.
Some plants need more coddling as the weather cools, such as roses. You need to trim the roses, getting rid of the tallest stems during the autumn season. For climbing roses, no need to trim these plants. Just remove the climbing stems off the trellis, lay them on the ground and then cover with mulch. After the ground freezes, you can cover the roses with a layer of mulch. Some low maintenance rose varieties need a warm base to keep them healthy during the winter season so use mulch or compost. For delicate rose varieties, you’ll need some covering – such as cloches or plant cones – for shelter.
Sometimes the last weeks of fall are extraordinarily dry, leaving shrubs and perennial plants thirsty. You need to water these plant varieties deeply or they will die over the winter. High winds and salt build-up could also cause damage to the plants. Use burlap screens to protect your plants from the elements.
Got newly planted evergreens, shrubs, trees, and perennials? You need to mulch them after the ground freezes as mulching protects delicate plant roots from frost and freezing weather.
Make a habit out of adding compost to your vegetable garden and keeping the plots neat and tidy before the winter season. This ensures excellent bounty come springtime. If your garden is decorated with potted plants and garden statues, you need to bring them indoors during the winter season.
Improving Soil Condition during the Winter Season
When the temperature drops below 45°F, most biological activities in the garden slow down. Everything from the plants to critters buried into the ground prepares to hibernate through the winter. Although the soil structure will not change for the better during the cold season, you can do something about it to ensure the survival of your plants even in the bitterest of cold.
Digging and Turning the Garden Beds
It's normal for the soil to become loose and crumbly at the end of the season. You can restore the texture of the soil by digging and turning the beds. This is best done if you are planning to prepare the beds for an early spring vegetable garden. During the fall season, you can mulch over vacant beds without cultivating them first. We also recommend digging out perennial weeds to retain your garden soil’s structure.
Always Use Winter Mulch
Fall and winter mulches work as an insulating barrier between the dry, frigid air and the soil. Winter mulch is perfect for protecting the delicate plant roots from the changing soil temperature. Soil temperature will fluctuate as the weather transitions to the winter months. When this happens, the plants could heave out of the soil, exposing their upper root systems, which cannot tolerate the cold. Winter mulches protect the plants’ root systems from soil erosion and compaction from heavy rains.
Grow Cool-Climate Plants
As the season changes and temperature drops, soil erosion becomes a serious threat to your garden. To prevent soil from eroding, consider growing cool-climate hardy plants. From carrots to cabbages, Brussels sprouts to winter peas, cool-climate hardy plants protect from soil erosion by growing massive root systems. These root systems will hold onto the soil while also increasing the ground’s organic matter content.
Cover Your Compost
Got several garden beds that are vacant until spring season? Make good use of these vacant plots by loading them with compost without cultivating them first. Then, cover the compost with an old blanket or a low row cover tunnel. The cover helps reduce soil compaction caused by heavy rains while also retaining the compost’s moisture level.
Refreshing Your Garden Setup for the Winter Months
Now that your garden is winter-proof, let’s talk about the many ways you can dress up your garden setup during the dreary winter months.
Give your garden a pop of color to offset the starkness of winter by adding plants with a soothing palette of bright green, white or burgundy. You can also plant miniature deep green conifers after the holidays to give your garden setup some color.
Make your outdoor setting appear warm and inviting by dressing up the patio with colorful cushions, pillows, and throws. You can also stick to neutrals and whites if you want to highlight your garden’s frosty foliage.
The winter season can make your surroundings appear stark or dull during the night and you can create an inviting garden set up by improving the lighting. Set the mood with string lights, wrap the string lights on tree trunks and branches to create a soft glow at night. You can also use portable patio lights, or hang icicle lights to create a shimmering backdrop. Light up your pathways or define walkways with portable ground lights or LED ground driveway lights.
Give your garden a full look of lushness by combining different types of potted plants. You can define the in-ground plant beds by setting a row of potted plants along its borders. You can also use plants that yield white blooms – like white cyclamen – to enhance your raised border’s low brick wall and accentuate this area. You can also highlight the front entry by grouping more potted plants together. You can also use potted, winter-friendly plants to dress up the patio or deck.
It is possible to grow a container garden to enhance the look of your yard during the winter season as long as you are using cool climate plants. When creating a container garden, always pay close attention to the kind of plants that you are using as well as the condition of the soil. Do note that plants grow slowly during the winter season so use light, well-drained soil or a soilless mix. As for the best cool-season plants to plant, there are so many to choose from. Some of the best plants to get for a winter container garden include red-twig dogwood, Rheingold arborvitae, blue rug juniper, and blue star juniper.
Banish lifelessness during the winter season by attracting birds and friendly critters to your garden. Start by planting native flowering plants, shrubs, and trees, to give birds shelter during winter. You can set up bird feeders and bird baths so your feathered friends have a safe place to eat and rest! You can also leave bowls of water all over the property so shy birds could come in for a drink.
Winter season is just around the corner so it pays to prepare your garden weeks, even months before the weather changes. Keep these useful gardening tips in mind when you are winter-proofing your garden. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to enjoy our freshest gardening resources + amazing deals on our bestselling products!