Readying Western Gardens For Winter

R. L. Rhodes
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A cold frame with seedlings.

Western winters tend to be short, but sharp changes in temperature can wreak havoc on an unprepared garden. Take the following advice to help your garden thrive.

Cynthia, our Muddy Boots reporter in North Texas, admits that preparing for winter can be tricky in the West. “I definitely have tomatoes still on the vine in December,” she says. “Sometimes I have to pick everything green before an ice storm or freeze, but the plants are still trying!” She suggests using a cold frame for more delicate vegetables, like lettuce.

In regions that don’t get consistent snow coverage, unprotected perennials can be damaged by “heaving” as the ground alternately freezes and thaws. Spreading an alternative ground cover, like straw or mulch, can help protect dormant plants by trapping warmth at the surface. Delay adding ground cover to your garden until just before the first big freeze is due. That will allow your plants can develop some cold-hardiness in advance of the winter.

Rotting plant matter can attract disease to your garden. If you see the dying annuals in your bed, go ahead and consign them to the compost heap. Clear away any stray sticks and leaves while you’re at it. And what about weeds? “I cover my beds with layers of cardboard to keep out weed seeds,” says Cynthia.

If you’ve rounded out your garden with additional plants in containers, you may want to bring the more cold-sensitive varieties indoors until the spring. Because potted soil is most susceptible to changes in temperature, even plants that would be relatively hardy when planted in the ground may be at greater risk when container-grown. If you intend to move some plants in and out in response to frosts or freezes, save yourself some trouble later on by arranging their containers to make the transitions more convenient. For larger plants, keep a hand truck or dolly nearby to ease the burden of frequent moves.

Don’t live in the West? Choose another region.

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