Protect Perennials and Prepare Your Garden for Winter

Perennials are trusty plants that keep coming back each spring to give you beautiful blooms or foliage all summer long, so it’s only right to give them a little TLC before winter arrives. Wait until the weather turns cooler and your plants have stopped growing before starting your garden cleanup.

Always check the local weather conditions and be aware of your growing zone to choose the best time to start preparing your garden for winter. Keep in mind that growing zones are a guideline only. Open areas that face north and away from the shelter of your house or bushes, for example, will be cooler than the more protected south-facing sections of your garden.

Many gardening experts recommend leaving the foliage on your healthy plants over the winter as they provide not only interest in your winter garden, but seeds and shelter for birds, bees, butterflies and animals.

Look at your perennials closely to detect damage caused by pests or diseases. It’s advisable to cut plants down to the ground if they appear damaged or diseased to prevent them from carrying the pest on to next spring. You can cut down hostas and perennials in the fall, but it’s best to wait until spring to cut back ornamental grasses, coneflowers, Russian sage, lavender, and roses.

Compost all your plant cuttings to generate new nutrients for your garden next year.

Keep your plants’ feet warm

Some perennials need a little help to keep their feet warm in the cold winter months. You can pile up soil around roses, chrysanthemums, and other tender plants. When the last snow has melted away and the ground starts to warm up in the spring, break down the mounds and spread the soil evenly in your garden.

Weed before winter

This is your last chance to get those weeds out! It’s best to tackle the weeds now to prevent any of the hardier ones from multiplying quickly next spring.

Water before the ground freezes

It’s been a dry summer in many regions so watering your perennials before winter is more important than ever. Use a sprinkler or soaker hose to give your plants a deep soaking before the ground starts to freeze. Don’t forget to turn off the water to your outdoor taps and empty your rain barrels before the winter freeze starts.

Remove and compost annuals

Remove all annuals including vegetables from your garden, as in most cases they will not survive the winter cold.

Dig up your tender bulbs and tubers

Bring your cannas, dahlias and gladioli inside for the winter. After the first frost and the flowers are done, cut off the stems and foliage, dig them up and brush off the soil. Let them dry and then store them in a cool, dry place such as your basement or garage.

Plant your spring bulbs

While you’re out there, don’t forget to plant some tulip, narcissus and daffodil bulbs for a colorful spring display!

Water-garden plants

Luckily, robust water plants can spend the winter at the bottom of the pond, but if you have any tropical water lilies, you will need to bring them inside, preferably in a cold, dark basement. Keep them moist throughout the winter so they’ll be healthy when you open up your pond in the spring.

Trees and shrubs

Your trees and shrubs need thorough watering before winter, especially if your region had little rain during the summer and fall.

To keep your trees healthy, prune damaged branches and add some mulch around the trunk to help keep moisture in over the winter months. You can prune spring-flowering shrubs in the fall but wait until spring to prune shrubs and trees that are still in bloom.

Cover newly planted evergreens with burlap to protect them from wind and salt.

Feed your perennials with compost

If you have any compost left, feed your gardens and perennials to give them a head start for next spring.

How to mulch perennials

There are many benefits to mulching all year round and before the winter snow.

If your region’s weather tends to go from extreme cold to sudden thaws and freezing again, then mulch can protect roots from these damaging fluctuations in temperature.

Are any of your perennials considered tender or half-hardy? Take note of your zone, winter temperatures and the hardiness of each plant to determine how much protection they will need. Tender perennials and young or newly planted perennials will need more protection than established plants, so be sure to cover their roots with mulch.

Timing of mulching perennials is important. You don’t want to cover plants too soon as this could delay freezing resulting in heaving and thawing. Avoid spreading mulch too late in the fall or the roots may not survive the cold. It is best to mulch young perennials when the first two inches of soil is frozen.

What type of mulch is best?

There are so many choices for mulching your garden: pine needles, various types of natural packaged or bulk mulch or bark chips. You can also mulch with what is available in your garden. Instead of putting leaves in bags for yard waste collection, shred them and put them under your trees and on your garden beds around perennials. Mulch will break down and enrich your soil for a healthier and more fertile garden next spring.

Finishing touches

Fall is an excellent time to clean your garden tools, empty your planters and urns, compost the plants, and add the soil from the pots to your garden. Clean your terra cotta and other planters, and store them in a warm place to be ready for spring planting.

Fall is such a refreshing time to be out in the garden to take in the beauty of the changing colors and breathe in the fresh, crisp air. Enjoy!