Around here it is important to winterize your gardens to help your plants have the best chance for winter survival. Here is my checklist of things that you should for all the different plants in your yard:
Get the leaves off the lawn!!
1. Early in the fall, make sure to give your lawn a last dose of fertilizer. This really helps it recover from summer stress (especially this year which was very dry!). The healthier your lawn is going into the winter months, the better it can stand up to the cold, insects, drought, and other stresses. 2. Rake all leaves and compost or put out for the town to take (if you are lucky enough to have this service. Did you know that the town of Guilderland dumps leaves here for us to use as compost in our fields?). If you leave them on the lawn they can become matted down and deprive your lawn of oxygen and leave dead spots. 3. Give it a final mow. (Not too short but pretty short- I usually go one level lower than I normally cut it).
Trees and Shrubs: 1. Prune back any dead or damaged branches. 2. Give shrubs a final haircut. I don't go crazy- just a final trim to shape them up (my holly had some funny shoots sticking up so they got cut off last week). It is really best to prune when the plants are dormant or right after they bloom. Never take more than 1/3 of the shrub off at a time. Also, DO NOT cut back Butterfly Bush or Caryopteris- these are both pretty tender around here and will have a better chance of survival if you wait until the spring to trim them back. 3. Cover or wrap any shrubs that are in the line of heavy snow- especially those that are under the drip line of your roof and may have heavy snow or ice falling on them. For those I recommend wooden shrub covers (v shaped that go over the top). Just remember when you buy them to keep in mind the full grown size of the shrub so you don't have to buy new covers every year. Put tree wrap around the trunks of young or yummy trees. This helps to protect them from winter damage caused by extreme temperatures or by animals (moles, mice, rabbits, etc.). You can also create a fenced off area with burlap by putting up stakes around the shrubs/trees and wrapping burlap around them. Also, wrap any "deer candy" shrubs with burlap or deer netting (see Deer Proofing Your Yard). 4. Apply an anti-desiccate (anti-transpirant) spray to your Rhododendrons and Holly (and any other broad-leaved evergreen shrubs). This helps them survive the harsh winter winds and not dry out over the winter.
5. Give them a final dose of WATER. I know that it may sound strange to water a tree/shrub with no leaves, but once the ground freezes they will have no access to water until it thaws out in the spring. By giving them a final dose (especially in a year like this) you are giving the roots one final chance to get the water that they need to make it through the winter without getting dried out like many did last year!
My holly got a final haircut-looking good for winter.
My sedum and salvia need to be cut down to ground level.
Perennials: 1. Trim down your perennials to a few inches above ground level (not too close to the ground as this could damage the crown of the plant), removing any dead stalks and leaves. I wait until they are good and brown before I cut them down, usually after a number of hard frosts. I do this right through mid-November as some plants hang on a lot longer (even through a couple of hard frosts). I usually throw this debris away in lawn bags for the town to take away or compost it. Some perennials do not like to be cut back in the fall- see this link for a comprehensive list: About.com's Spring Pruning List 2. Now is time to divide some perennials. How do you know if they need it or which ones you should be dividing? See the Dividing Perennials Page for the notes from our class "Preparing Your Garden For Winter".
3. Apply a thin layer of mulch over the perennials (use the same as for shrubs). This helps protect them through the winter. Make sure that it is a light mulch that won't mat down and suffocate them or provide a nice place for critters to make a nest.
4. WATER- See above.
Annuals and Vegetables:
1. Make a map of your vegetable garden. It is very important that you rotate your crops (3-year rotation is good). I always think that I will remember exactly where I planted something last year- but as I get older the years start blending together and I always think, "I should have drawn a map last year!". Do this BEFORE you pull everything out.
2. After the first hard frost pull out any annuals or tender vegetable plants that have died back. Some vegetables will survive much longer (cold crops like broccoli, cabbage, etc.) so they can be left. This dead matter can be composted if you are sure that it is disease free, but I usually dispose of it in lawn bags that the town picks up just to make sure that if any plants were diseased that they won't contaminate next years crops. Also, dead plants and spoiled fruit can harbor insects and pests. If in doubt, throw it out!
3. Plant GARLIC! Now is the time to plant garlic- (usually around Colombus Day). This is easy to grow and there is nothing better than FRESH garlic in the early summer.
4. Add soil ammendments like compost, manure, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cornstalks, etc. This gives them an opportunity to decompose and mellow out before it is time to put seedlings in the ground in the spring. A good layer of leaves or grass clippings can also restrict weed growth and provide a haven for earthworms.
This hot pepper plant has had it- throw it out!!
Plant Spring bulbs before the ground is frozen.
Bulbs: 1. Remove any tender summer bulbs (like cannas, dahlias, tuberous begonias, etc.). Throw away and damaged or diseased bulbs. Place all good bulbs in a box with wood shavings or sawdust and keep in a cool dry location (below 60 degrees). 2. Plant any fall bulbs before the ground gets hard. See the page on Planting Spring Bulbs for more info.
My Pink Double Knockouts cut back to about 18 inches.
Roses: 1. For Shrub roses (including Knockouts), just trim them back to about 12 to 18 inches. I do not mulch them or cover them (I've got 9 and I have never lost one yet) but you can if you want. 2. For Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, etc. mulch around the base heavily or cover with burlap or a rose cone. Some people say to cut them way back and some people say to leave them alone and wait until Spring to cut them back. Honestly, I don't have any Hybrid Teas in my garden right now (I have successfully killed them all due to neglect- obviously I didn't winterize properly!) so I will refer you to this article which will hopefully be more helpful: HGTV's Winterizing Your Roses
Don't forget your tools! Clean them with soapy water and a stiff brush, get the rust off with sandpaper or steel wool, sharpen them, and rub them with and oiled cloth. Your tools will last longer and will be ready for spring.
Weeds: The last bit of advice that I have is to weed out your beds as best you can. If the weeds are too big to pull out at least cut them down and get the seed heads thrown away before they drop their seeds everywhere! With a lot of the other plants cut back it is easier to see the weeds (like yesterday when I cut back my lillies I saw some grass that had started to grow in one section). Many weeds go to seed in the fall. It is best to get the weeds out now so that they don't get an early start in the spring and then you get ahead for next year too!