Properly winterizing your garden in the fall is essential for a bountiful spring. Follow a few general rules, and you will find yourself saving both time and money come warmer weather.
The first step to winterizing your garden is to figure out what US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Zone you live in. Understanding frost and freeze dates will help you plan your approach to caring for your garden in the fall. Freezing conditions can take a toll on even the hardiest of plants in every region, so it is important to be mindful of your local climate.
Once you have figured out the frost and freeze dates for your area, begin by planting spring-blooming bulbs like tulips. Plant bulbs in late fall, between September and December, just before the ground becomes too hard to work. For tender bulbs — like begonias, gladiolus, and cannas — dig them up and store them in a paper bag in a cool, dry spot. These summer-blooming bulbs won’t survive the cold temperatures in USDA Zone 9 and colder.
Fall is also a great time to get a head start on spring weeds. Tidying up your garden now will create less mess in the spring. Cut back dead foliage on perennials, and dispose of annual flowers and vegetables. Rake fallen leaves and add them to your compost heap for fertilizer.
Protect your perennials from snow and frost with a thick layer of insulating mulch, such as shredded leaves, pine needles, or straw. Try to avoid using whole leaves and compact materials, as they tend to mat and can suffocate plants.
Give your plants one last watering. Evergreens, small trees, and shrubs need to have full foliage in order to prevent damage from drying winds.
Don’t forget to take care of your garden tools as well. You can add years to the life of your equipment by protecting it from rust and exposure to the cold. Start by scraping off any leftover dirt that may be caked on. If you use water to wash off your tools, make sure you dry them thoroughly with an old rag before storing them. Condition wooden handles by sanding any rough spots, and sharpen cutting tools with a specified file. Lastly, try to avoid leaving tools on garage floors or other places where they may get damp during the winter.
Roses need extra consideration during the fall. You should stop fertilizing your roses in early autumn or at least one month before your area's first annual frost date. Fertilizing any longer will encourage new growth that will get nipped by the cold. Mound several inches of soil on top of the root base if you live in warmer climates. If you are in a colder climate, zone 5 and colder, pile up about a foot of soil after your region's last annual frost date. Colder climates also require the entire rose bush be wrapped in burlap to protect the upper branches.
Potted plants and hanging gardens need special attention in the fall as well. Container plants tend to freeze more easily due to exposure to cold air and the elements, which can damage both the plant and the pot. Terra cotta pots, in particular, are prone to cracking and breaking in freezing temperatures. Try wrapping the container in insulating material, such as burlap, old blankets or even bubble wrap. If possible, bring potted plants indoors for the winter. By doing so, you can extend the life of your plants and add a little greenery to your household during the bleak winter months.
Put in a little extra effort this fall to winterize your garden, and you will be sure to reap the rewards by springtime. Your garden will thank you with an easy transition from season to season and reward you with vibrant and healthy plants year-round.