As the temperatures start to drop during the fall months and the chill in the air is a sign of winter right around the corner, putting the garden to bed is mostly a matter of cleaning and covering up. Aside from the annuals that will surely wither and die when the first frost hits your region, the remaining perennials prepare for dormancy. The cool weather is a good time to get the gardens, bushes and trees prepared for the onslaught of bitter cold so that your gardens will rejuvenate when spring returns.
Even though it may appear that all of the activity in the garden has come to a grinding stop, there is a lot of action going on under the soil until it freezes. Any newly plant planted trees, shrubs, perennials plants and hardy bulbs are all growing roots. They are drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them to keep healthy for winter’s arrival. Even earthworms, bugs and microbes in the earth are still processing the organic material that they’re finding in the soil.
Mulch it Up:
Chances are that the mulch that you placed in the gardens in spring has deteriorated during the summer months, so it’s important to add a new layer of mulch in fall to protect plants and soil over the winter season. By adding additional mulch now, you keep the soil warmer, but more importantly you maintain an even temperature throughout the soil. Use lightweight organic shredded mulch over beds to protect plants from winter’s extremes and avoid compact mulches, which mat and suffocate the plants. Once the soil is frozen, the mulch will keep it frozen. Even a good snow cover insulates the soil very much like mulch; therefore, a thick blanket of mulch will preserve the life of the plants beneath.
Perennials & Bulbs:
Fall is a great time to divide perennials. Begin this process about six weeks ahead of the ground freezing. The candidates for division are those perennials that are clumped too close together and do not flower robustly any longer. Dividing is also good for those plants that show bare spots in the middle. By dividing, you will strengthen the root system so when they return in spring, the plants will be heartier and healthier with more blossoms.
As for bulb plants, autumn is the perfect time to get your tulips, hyacinth, crocus and daffodils set into the ground for their initial bloom in spring. When winter’s snow begins to thaw and the earth begins to warm along with spring rain, the moisture and temperateness spur the bulbs to flourish. If you have tender bulbs that many not survive a freeze, dig them up, store them in a container and cover them with sawdust until they can be replanted.
Shrubs & Trees:
Winter can be extremely harsh on scrubs. Snow, wind, rain and ice can wreak havoc on the delicate branches; hence, it’s wise to prune some of the smaller, weaker branches as a preventative measure. Mounds of snow or damaging ice can put stress and strain on the shrubs, but you can give them added protection by building a tepee over them. A tepee is made from pieces of thin, flexible wood like bamboo rods, which you erect over the shrubs in a pyramid shape. Piling mulch around the base will also prevent moisture loss during frosty winters.
Trees heading toward winter have a mechanism in them called “senescence”. It signals the tree of the impending changes in temperature and light thereby obeying the dormancy control built into the leaf. Basically, it tells the tree to close down for the onslaught of winter. Prune dead or overlapping branches in the late fall to strengthen the tree and encourage new growth in the spring. For tender bark of young trees, wrap them with wire mesh or tree guards to prevent gnawing critters from destroying them. The old standby burlap can also be wrapped around trees as a protective shield from winter’s damaging effects.
Winter is on its way with all of its hazardous weather conditions. By winterizing your gardens in fall; plants, shrubs and trees will endure the harmful rampage of Old Man Winter until spring returns with a renewal of life.