For the majority of gardening enthusiasts, gardening is a warm weather activity. While some people live in climates that make it possible to enjoy gardening year-round, those who don’t often lament the end of the gardening season.
Winter might not be conducive to gardening, but the arrival of dreary, wet weather does not necessarily mean a gardener’s work is done until the following spring. Taking steps to protect plants from winter weather is an important part of maintaining a healthy garden that thrives from year to year.
Autumn means it’s time to clean up the garden, said Martha Clatterbough, a WSU Master Gardener. Get rid of anything that is diseased, and remove fallen fruit or anything that may harbor disease over the winter. It’s also a good time to remove diseased branches and annuals.
She encouraged people to set bait for slugs, which appear throughout the year.
Timing is of the essence when winterizing a garden. The online gardening resource Get Busy Gardening!TM advises gardeners that the best time to winterize is after the first hard freeze in the fall. A hard freeze occurs when temperatures dip below freezing overnight. When that occurs, annual plants and vegetables are killed off and perennial plants, which grow back year after year, begin going dormant.
Better Homes and Gardens notes that perennials are the easiest plants to prepare for winter, as they require just a little cutting back and mulching to be safe from cold weather. But no two perennials are alike, so homeowners should consult their local gardening center for advice on how to prepare their particular perennials for the coming months.
Clatterbough encourages people to use leaves from deciduous trees and to avoid using fruit tree leaves because it could attract pests and diseases.
“It’s important not to mulch right up next to the tree,” Clatterbough said. She added it would provide shelter for voles, which could start nibbling on trees.
The steps necessary to winterize annuals depends on which type of annuals, cool- or warm-climate, you have.
“I bring my dahlias inside,” Clatterbough said. She describes dahlias as “marginally hearty” and susceptible to water damage.
Cool-climate annuals should be covered with polyspun garden fabric when light frost is in the forecast. In addition, Better Homes and Gardens recommends pulling dead annuals and adding them to a compost pile after a killing frost. Any annuals that developed fungal disease should be discarded. Mulch annual beds with a three- to four-inch layer of chopped leaves or similar materials, spreading the mulch only two inches thick over self-sown seeds you want to germinate in the spring.
Warm-climate annuals also should be covered with polyspun garden fabric when light frost is expected. Seeds of cold-hardy annuals can be planted for extended winter bloom, while gardeners also can collect seeds of warm-weather plants that will breed true to type. Even though you’re winterizing, Better Homes and Gardens recommends that gardeners continue to weed and water their plant beds and plants while also keeping an eye out for pests. If organic mulch has decomposed or thinned out, replace it with a new layer.
The fall is a good time to clean up the garden and take care of hoses and the irrigation system. It’s a good time to cover plants to provide warmth and to protect from insects.
She mentioned it might be necessary to continue watering plants especially in sheltered areas. Dried out plants can become more susceptible to cold damage.
“I would advise people not to overreact to winter damage,” Clatterbough said, noting that damaged plants may heal and come back. “Patience is a virtue in a garden.”
She said to continue weeding as invasive plants will continue to grow during the winter.
Get Busy Gardening!TM notes that the bulbs of tender plants like dahlias and tuberous begonias can be dug up and overwintered in their dormant state. All dead foliage should be removed after the bulbs have been dug up, and the bulbs should be allowed to dry out a little before being stored. Container gardeners can overwinter their tender bulbs in their pots inside, but be sure to remove their foliage and store them in a dark, cool place that maintains temperatures above freezing.
Winterizing may mark the end of gardening season, but it’s an important task that can ensure a healthy, beautiful garden next spring, summer and fall.
For more information, go to extension.wsu.edu/snohomish/garden/master-gardener-program/.