Frost, Damp And Winter Sun Pose A Threat To Many Plants

Putting the garden to bed for the winter is mostly a matter of cleaning up and covering up. As fall progresses and temperatures drop, those plants that aren't killed outright by frost prepare for dormancy.

Clear out the blackened stems and foliage of annual flowers and vegetables to prevent the possibility of their harboring disease pathogens and insect eggs over the winter.

The cool weather is a good time to make a cold frame, dig and box in raised beds, and make general repairs.

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, drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them.

Earthworms and various microbes in the soil are still processing the organic material they're finding.

Most likely, the organic mulch you spread to protect the soil during the summer months has substantially decomposed. It's important to spread new mulch now – a thicker winter layer – to protect 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.

Once the soil is frozen, mulch keeps it frozen. So if you have shade trees, convert the fallen leaves to mulch and use it throughout your property.

Here are some tips to help secure your plants: 

  • Cut back dry stems of perennials to soil level after frost to neaten the garden and remove pest eggs and disease spores that may linger. Leave stems with attractive seed heads for winter interest.

  • To prevent rodents from nesting in the soil, wait until the ground freezes before adding a 6-inch layer of organic material as winter mulch.

  • Mulch bulb beds with evergreen boughs to protect the soil from shifting and cracking during the winter. Otherwise plants, especially small, shallowly planted bulbs, can be heaved to the surface.

  • Screen evergreens, particularly exposed broad-leaved types, from drying winter wind and sun by setting up burlap screens or shade cloth shelters.

  • Tree roses, or standards, are vulnerable to the cold, so you'll want to help them cope with winter. Begin by setting four stakes in the ground around and just beyond the mulched root zone.

  • Enclose shrubs in cylinders of cardboard, metal, or plastic or in commercially made foam rose cones for maximum protection. Fill them with shredded bark, paper, or leaves for added insulation.

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