Preparing Your Garden for Winter

By Theresa Rooney, Hennepin County Master Gardener

Yes winter is coming, the ground will freeze, and snow will fall.   But there is still work to do!  First, let’s discuss the things you should not be doing:

  • Don’t prune any trees or shrubs.
  • All of your transplanting of perennials and dividing should be done by now.
  • Don’t plant evergreen trees or shrubs.
  • Do not fertilize any plants now, including your lawn.
  • Do not plant grass seed now. (Dormant seeding takes place just before the snowfall.)

Second, here are the things you should do:

  • Keep watering everything until the ground starts to freeze, not just till we get the first killing frost. Plant roots are still growing and storing moisture for the winter and spring.
  • Clean up any diseased perennials and annuals after the frost kills them and throw them away. Do not put them in your compost. You may send them to the city compost.
  • If you have had to pull plants due to aster yellows, you should just throw them away; do not send them to the city compost.
  • You can leave all your perennials standing if you wish, except for plants that were hit hard by disease or insects (like four lined plant bugs), and iris and peonies.  All of these should be cleared after frost has killed the above-ground foliage.
  • If you had a perennial weed problem, you can spray the weeds now with the correct herbicide.  Always read and follow the directions on the label.  The label is the law!  If you have questions ask a Master Gardener or your trusted garden center personnel.  Hand pulling of weeds is a great way to remove them without chemicals and is a fun workout too!

Third, here are the things you can do now:

  • Prepare any new beds for next spring planting.  After you have cleaned up the veggie garden, prepare the soil for next year and then either plant a cover crop (oats are nice because they do not have to be tilled under) or cover the exposed soil after it has frozen with straw or leaves.
  • Once the ground is frozen, you can choose whether or not you want to mulch your perennials; it is up to you.  If you planted new perennials this year, you should mulch them the first season to prevent frost heaving.
  • Continue to plant spring blooming bulbs now – daffodils as soon as you can and tulips until the ground is frozen.

Other tasks you may want to consider include:

  • Protecting trees and shrubs from voles, bunnies and deer.
  • Rake leaves and save them for next spring and summer.  Having a bag of leaves is great when you need to add brown material to the compost pile in the middle of summer.  They also can be used as a free source of mulch for your new plantings.
  • Remove and store all decorations, tools, and breakable pots.
  • Get the snow shovels out.
  • Hang Holiday lights.
  • Create your winter container arrangements.

Another task is to make notes about what went well in your garden and what did not work well.  Take pictures of the garden.  You can review the pictures during the winter to see what needs work, thinning, moving, etc.  Still can’t figure out what is wrong with the design? Turn the picture upside down, print it in black and white, or reverse the image.  By looking at your ‘problem’ area in a different way, the answer will become easier to see. Keep your notes, pictures and problems/solutions handy when the gardening catalogs start arriving. Your research will help you make good purchasing decisions.

And the final, most important task is to relax and enjoy the end of the season in all of its glory.  Sit back, have a cup of tea and just relax for a few minutes.  Happy Gardening!

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