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Winterizing the Garden

P. Allen Smith
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P Allen Smith, mulching the garden

Winter, contrary to popular belief, is an important time for the garden. Everything needs rest, including plants and avid gardeners. Winter is a time for maintenance and putting the garden to bed.  

PROTECTING YOUR GARDEN IN WINTER

Winter doesn’t really start until the first killing frost. After that occurs, you know it’s time to begin prepping the garden for the rest of the season. First you’ll need to clean up. You’re going to need to cut back perennials. Leave some foliage up for the birds and for winter interest. You can either compost the garden debris or, if it’s diseased or infested with pests, take it to the trash.

P Allen Smith, cleaning up gardenSimilarly, clean out your vegetable garden by discarding dead foliage. Again, if it was diseased, throw the foliage in the trash rather than in your compost bin. Either way, it’s important to rid the garden of dead foliage.

Did you know mulch protects your garden during the winter? This will keep the soil temperature consistent and prevent freezing and thawing that leads to heaving. Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch in beds after the ground has frozen. Also be sure to keep the mulch 1 inch away from the crown of the plants to prevent rot and rodent damage.

Remove the soil from your container gardens and store the pots in the garage, shed or against a fence covered with a tarp. For planted pots that stay outside, remove saucers so pots won’t stand in water; cover pots with old blankets when extended periods of freezing are expected and remove the blanket during the day to prevent plants from overheating.

Also, be sure to wrap newly planted tree trunks to prevent sunscald.

Finally, reduce watering of all plants because during their periods of dormancy they don’t need as much. Do be sure to water evergreens through fall to ensure that they are well hydrated before winter sets in.

PUTTING AWAY TOOLS FOR WINTER

Next you’ll need to put away your equipment. I like to protect my tools by using a sand bucket tool keeper. Here’s how to make your own: start by filling a 5-gallon bucket with a bag of play sand and then pour about 1/2 gallon of mineral oil evenly over the top, let it filter through the sand and then push your tools in. One of the great things about this idea is that the coarseness of the sand works as an abrasive, keeping debris off of the tools. And of course, the oil keeps water from damaging the metal. The bucket has become a permanent home for my hand tools, and I always know where to find them. For larger tools, simply spray with vegetable oil in a can (vegetable oil cooking spray) to protect it from water damage.

Don’t forget about your hose. Winter conditions will damage it if it’s left out in the elements. You can create a hose holder it by hanging an old wire basket on the wall and wrapping your hose around it.

The lawn mower is one of the more expensive garden investments, so it’s especially important to keep it well maintained. Before you put away your mower, drain gasoline and take it to the shop for any repairs needed.  Have the blade sharpened and balanced while you’re at it.

These simple steps to winterize your garden will set you up for a successful spring growing season.

Images courtesy of P. Allen Smith

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