It’s worth taking care of your garden right now because taking good care of beds in the fall will help them thrive next spring and summer.
Putting the garden to bed for the winter is mostly a matter of cleaning up and covering up. As fall progresses and temperatures drop, plants are preparing for dormancy. Here are the top tips to get you on your way:
Clear Out and Cut Back
Clearing out the blackened stems and foliage of annual flowers and vegetables will help prevent the possibility of disease and insect eggs over the winter. On perennials that have finished for the season, cut back the stems 6 to 8 inches from the ground.
It can be tempting to leave dead or dying plants where they are for the moment and clear up what’s left of them in the spring, but by doing many pests – slugs and snails for example will happily feast on this material, meaning they will be in the perfect place to start munching on your precious seedlings in the spring.
Stopping the fertilizing of perennials in late summer and slowly cutting back on watering will encourage them to slow their growth and harden off for winter. New growth is not encouraged late in the season as any new buds will die off in the cold weather.
Fall is a good time to feed perennials by working in a 4- to 6-inch-thick layer of compost (manure or organic matter) around the beds. The compost slowly breaks down, releasing the needed nutrients to plants and replenishing and improving the soil structure.
While it appears as if all activity in the garden has stopped, there’s a lot going on under the soil until it freezes. Newly transplanted trees and shrubs, divisions of perennials and hardy bulbs are all growing roots, and drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them.
Most likely, the mulch you spread to protect the soil during the summer months has substantially decomposed. It is important to spread new mulch now – replacing the old mulch will also eliminate any disease or insects that have taken up residence there. The new mulch will add a thicker layer to protect the plants and soil over the winter months.
The idea is not so much to keep the soil warm as it is to keep the temperature even and insulate the bed. Watering your plants after a hard frost, but before winter sets in will re-hydrate so in the spring they will have enough moisture to begin their new growth.
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