Preparing the garden for winter

Even if you have a green thumb, you might still greet the cooling temperatures with a sigh of relief. After several months of weeding, mulching, and other tasks, you'll be able to take a break from the garden for the winter.

Before you do so, however, you'll want to make sure your garden is well-prepared for the freezing temperatures. This late season work can help keep your plots in good shape and give you a head start on the growing season once spring arrives.

Check the recommendations for individual plants to see which ones can be left in place and which ones need to be removed or protected. The Old Farmer's Almanac says some crops, particularly root vegetables, can tolerate frost. However, they typically need to be removed and stored before the ground freezes solid.

Trees and shrubs can benefit from some protective steps. Snow fencing with an insulating layer of straw or shredded leaves can protect tree trunks from sun scald as well as freezing and thawing damage. Remove any broken or damaged limbs to keep them from coming down during winter storms.

Take some steps to improve your lawn. The University of Maryland Extension says the autumn is a good time to add fertilizer with a higher ratio of slow-release nitrogen. Fallen leaves can be left in place and mowed so the smaller pieces add more nutrients to the soil. Leaves can also be raked up and added to a compost pile.

Some plants that flower in the spring can be planted in the autumn, such as daffodils and tulips. HGTV recommends taking tender plants and tropical varieties indoors for the winter.

Many varieties need to be significantly cut back or pruned before the end of the season, and perennials and flowering shrubs should be given one last watering. The National Gardening Association says autumn is also a good time to work some compost into the soil around perennials to help provide them with nutrients over the winter.

Autumn is a good time to clean up any weeds or debris in your gardens. The University of Vermont Extension says doing so can help keep any diseases and pests from overwintering and harming your garden in the spring. Most debris can be composted, but any obviously diseased plant material should be destroyed.

Till the soil in your garden plots to further disrupt any pests who are trying to hunker down for the winter. The Old Farmer's Almanac says tilling is particularly effective in eliminating Japanese beetle grubs.

Particularly weedy areas can be covered with black plastic or even just some large pieces of cardboard. Leaving this cover in place over winter and into the spring can help keep any weed seeds from sprouting next season.

Refreshing the mulch in the garden beds can give additional protection to plants. The National Gardening Association says you can also remove the old mulch and replace it with materials such as hay, evergreen boughs, or floating row covers, which do a good job of holding snow in place as an insulating layer.

Depending on their location, some plants can benefit from wooden frames or other overhangs. These barriers can keep plants from getting crushed by snow or ice falling off a roof. Plants near streets, driveways, or walkways are also more vulnerable to getting damaged during snow removal efforts.

Once freezing temperatures arrive, expanding water can cause damage to some garden features. The Old Farmer's Almanac says your garden hose should be thoroughly drained and put away. Containers, including pots and watering cans, should also be emptied and kept in a safe place.

Winterize your irrigation system and any water features in your yard. HGTV says the pumps for fountains and other running water features should be drained and stored. Some water features are large enough that they won't freeze completely, while others should be emptied to prevent damage.

Perform some annual maintenance on your garden tools. Drain the fuel and oil from the lawn mower and other power equipment. Tools should be thoroughly cleaned and sharpened, and wooden handles can be treated with linseed oil to keep them from cracking.

Birds that visit during the winter season will thank you for providing birdhouses and feeders during the colder months. Leaving materials such as yarn and hair outside will also provide birds with materials for building nests.

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