Garden Dirt | Putting the Garden to Bed

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Garden Dirt | Putting the Garden to Bed

Winter is on our doorstep and it is bed time for the landscape.

As temperatures drop, those plants that haven’t already frozen to death are getting ready to go dormant. Deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials have lost their leaves, and many perennials duck out of sight altogether.

Putting the garden to bed is pretty much all about cleaning up and covering up.

Start by removing any deceased and diseased annual flowers and vegetables to prevent the possibility of over-wintering disease and insect eggs.

Cut back dry stems of perennials to soil level. This not only spruces up the yard but it will remove any lingering pests and disease spores. I keep stems with attractive seed heads for winter interest in my garden. Don’t cut back ornamental grasses and liriope. Those plants also provide winter interest and should not be cut back until early spring.

Garden debris can be used to create your own organic soil conditioner. Composting material generates heat which kills weed seeds and disease. But don’t use diseased plant material; trash anything that is questionable.

Get into your vegetable garden and removed dead plants. Top dress with compost to add nutrients to the soil. The more organic material you add now will decompose over winter…a plus for any garden bed.

While it looks as if life in the garden has ended, there’s still a lot going on under the soil. 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. Help boost the nutrients in your soil by top dressing beds with an organic soil amendment – like Bumper Crop – or home-grown compost.

Hard pruning should wait until later. But if something is bugging you, offenders can be trimmed away now without encouraging a lot of new growth, which you don’t want to encourage until spring.

There’s still time to transplant or add new plants. Make sure to water well, and continue to water until the ground freezes. This is true with any plants that aren’t fully established in your yard. And don’t forget to water plants in containers; a thorough watering every week or two should be sufficient.

Now is a good time to edge planting beds. A clean, crisp edge will keep your yard looking neat all winter, and makes the chore a little easier when spring arrives.

Winter garden clean-up wraps-up with the cover-up. Remove old mulch and spread new to protect plants and soil over the winter months. You can use commercially bagged mulch, or put Mother Nature’s debris to work: Those piles of fall leaves can be mowed into finer pieces and reused as mulch.

Good tools are expensive. Take care of yours and they’ll last for years. Remove caked-on dirt with a brush, rinse and dry thoroughly. Sand off any rust spots with fine sandpaper or steel wool, and coat the metal with vegetable oil or WD-40. Wipe a light coating of linseed oil or paste wax on wooden handles to prevent cracking or splitting. Store small tools in a bucket of sand soaked in oil to further deter rust, and hang rakes and shovels in an easy-to-access spot. Bring water hoses in out of the weather and ensure that they’re properly drained and coiled correctly (not kinked).

Winter means snow and ice which is not all bad for the garden. A good blanket of snow insulates the soil like a mulch and as it melts, gives plants a good long drink. But snow piled on evergreen branches weighs them down, risking breakage. Gently knock off snow from the bottom branches first, working upward. If branches are ice-covered, don’t try to knock off the ice – this can damage or break limbs. The ice will melt and gradually release the branches.

Your yard may appear gray and barren this time of year, but look under the surface and it’s a busy place. A year’s worth of good gardening practice and all of that nutritious compost you’ve diligently added means strong root growth which in turn will support robust, healthy new growth when warm temps return.

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