Preparing the garden for winter


There are, at minimum, dozens of tasks that should be, or could be completed to prepare the garden for winter. I will perhaps get around to a few, possibly not even those that should be considered the most critical, but those are the ones that will be accomplished, like it or not.

First and foremost on this list of chores, as any gardener knows, is raking leaves, and as my garden is bordered by enormous poplars and maples there is an abundance of fallen leaves. By good fortune there is no particular hurry, and I will often begin to collect, grind, and compost leaves in November, and work off and on until the task is complete in March. There are a few areas of ground covers where leaves must be removed or plants will suffer from the lack of sunlight, but otherwise this is a task to be undertaken on days with pleasant weather when I have an itch to get outdoors and out of the house.

Sooner, rather than later, I will pull a net over the ponds to keep leaves from blowing in and sinking to the bottom. This is not so much a matter of appearance as it is to keep the water from fouling with decaying leaves, and a few minutes in November makes the annual pond clean up in March considerably easier. There are fish only in one of the five ponds, the large swimming pond, and for water quality and the survival of the fish it is necessary to keep most of the leaves out.

One of the chores often  prescribed in preparing the garden for winter is to mulch planting  beds, and usually the advice requires us to apply mulch after the ground begins to freeze. The purpose is to maintain a more even soil temperature, and to avoid problems created by alternating periods of freeze and thaw. I have not found this to be a problem in my garden, though I have never applied a winter mulch, and in fact much of the garden has only a thin covering of pine bark and other parts have no mulch at all.

I will be using some of the leaves that are shredded to mulch two new beds that were recently planted with no mulch at all, but only for the purpose of thwarting winter weeds. The perennials, roses, and hydrangeas would have no problem surviving the winter without an insulating layer of mulch, but a three inch carpet of leaves will discourage the chickweed.

The heavy snow in the winter past demonstrated the need for tieing evergreens to prevent damage, and there were arborvitaes, junipers, cypress, boxwoods, and hollies in my garden that suffered injury from the snow. It is safe to presume that we will get much less snow this year, and I’ve never tied the evergreens in the past, so why bother? And I won’t, though the nylon strapping remains on many of the evergreens that were splayed in every direction in February and tied in March.

Reading the lists that are prepared for gardeners by overly cautious writers there seems to be concern for cold protection for evergreens, with recommendations on how to erect wind screens, and for anti-transpirants that can be sprayed to protect against the effects of frozen ground and chilly breezes. I have not seen the need to build structures to shelter plants that are accustomed to the outdoors, and are perfectly cold hardy, and evergreens in my garden have seldom suffered cold injury, even those that are marginally  hardy. I will not bother with burlap or sprays, and I expect the garden to survive the winter without a problem.

Of course, elephant ears and tropical bananas must be brought indoors for the winter or their roots dug and stored, and I will dig cannas and dahlias as well. The potted tropicals were hauled into the house almost two weeks ago, and if I must say so, without much of the usual trauma that waiting until the last possible moment entails.

A small frog was moved into the den, a hitchhiker on one plant or another, but after an evening spent chirping under the cover of lush foliage my wife discovered him the next morning gazing out a window and was able to capture and return him to the garden. Otherwise, there have been a few dropped leaves, normal for moving a plant to lower humidity, but thus far no major insect infestations.

I’ve found that garden writers seem quite fond of their tools, and perhaps all gardeners are this way, but I’ve been known to leave a spade in the weather for months at a time. Though I would not argue that this is the correct manner to handle tools, I have no emotional attachment to them, and so when I run across a shovel or trowel that has been cast aside and forgotten I will pick it up to stash in the garage or shed for the winter. I will not be sharpening and oiling tools, and have not seen an advantage gained by doing this, only that the spade becomes dangerously sharp and oily.

It is likely to be clear at this point that I am a perfectly awful gardener, irresponsible and lazy, but there is far too much garden, and only one of me, so I must determine which tasks are necessary and which are of the sort that are nice to do if I can get around to them. Most chores fit this category, and of course there is always something, or nothing at all that prevents their being accomplished.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. James says:

    Dave….Seems that the deer are ravaging our long borders of “Bear Grass,” though I think it has a more technical (Latin) name. I intend to blow all the leaves off this border plant, then fertilize with 10-10-10, then water it in over the next few days. Shall I spray this border plant periodically with deer repellant throughout the winter, and if so, on what schedule?

    1. Dave says:

      Since most plants do not grow in the winter there should be no need for frequent reapplication of deer repellents, except when it is worn off from repeated rains. The label of repellents that I’ve seen recommend a double concentration, and that this application should last for a couple months.

      I will be spraying my hollies and arborvitae with a double dose within the next few weeks, and then I don’t expect to worry about it until May. This worked last year with thirty inches of snow cover, and I experienced no deer damage.

  2. Lori says:

    You an awful gardener? LOL….I think not! Your garden is awesome and whatever you are doing is what needs to be done. I love you blog and your pictures are absolutely beautiful.

    1. Dave says:

      Thank you for your vote of confidence. There are moments when I’m inspired, and others when I’m a slug, but just enough gets done to keep this place from turning to a weed patch.

  3. Donita Godwin says:

    Dave- This is our first winter in Maryland and we are not certain how to prepare our roses for winter. We have hybrid and knock-out varieties.

    1. Dave says:

      You should not need to do anything at all to protect your roses through the winter. They are quite cold hardy, and should not suffer any damage, even in the most severe winter. If you plan to prune your roses I would hold off until early in March, and then they can be pruned to shape or if they have grown too large you can prune them back almost to the ground.

      The best pruning practice for roses is to inspect them annually for old canes (branches) at the base of the plant, which will look woody or rough. These canes should be cut as far back as possible, so that only green, vigorous canes remain. After three or four years there will be a few of these woody canes each year. If they are not removed the rose will not be harmed, but growth and flowering will be more vigorous if they are removed.

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