Updated: May 7, 2020
Now that the nights are cooler and the sun is shining a bit less each day, it’s time to prepare your garden for winter. Some people call this “putting the garden to bed,” and it’s an apt metaphor. When you properly clean your garden and tuck it in, it’ll be fresh and ready to bloom when springtime comes again. We asked team member Rebecca’s mom, who has been gardening for 50 years, for her advice on how to get your garden ready for winter.
Timing is important- and Tulips are special
If you haven’t planted your bulbs yet, do it right now so the bulbs can establish strong roots before the cold sets in. The rule of thumb for planting depth is to measure the height of the bulb and multiply by 3. So, a 1" crocus bulb goes in a 3" deep hole, and so on.
Tulips need a little extra love. Squirrels consider them a delicacy, and can decimate your tulip crop in one night. The solution is to use an organic repellent such as Ro-pel. When applied, it coats the bulb in a terrible-tasting substance. But beware: While not harmful, it can seep through gardening gloves and give you a nasty surprise if it gets in your mouth. Be sure to wear protective gloves, such as latex or similar when applying the repellant. Tulip bulbs also split into smaller bulbs year after year, causing the flowers to diminish in size until they simply disappear. To slow down the splitting, plant your tulips deeper, down to about 10". An added bonus is that squirrels tend to give up digging for food after about 6", so this step is a must-do.
You may want to buy your mulch now, but don’t put it down until there have been a few frosts. Why? Mice and other critters are looking for cozy places to escape the cold now, and they may decide your garden is the perfect place to settle- and you don’t want rodents wintering over in your garden. Plan for about 4 inches (high) of mulch to protect those bulbs and other plants during the cooler weather. Buy salt marsh hay, straw without the seed heads, or something similar. Contact your local garden center for more information or recommendations based on your needs.
A clean garden is a healthy garden
If you had any kind of disease or mold on the plants in your garden, or if diseased leaves fell into it from a taller tree, clean out those diseased leaves and put them in the trash. NOT in your compost, and NOT in the city yard compost; if you do that, the mold and diseases will proliferate and spread year after year. You can even rake up a thin layer of the garden’s soil and get rid of that, too. Yes, it sounds counterintuitive to throw soil in the trash, but it’s the easiest way to keep your garden healthy and productive.
It's also time to tackle your perennials- the plants that come back year after year. Cut the brown and gray stalks off them, as close to the ground as possible. Insects that would love to infest those dead stalks have to go somewhere else, and it improves the look of your garden to boot.
Feed and water your garden
Your garden may be fading, but your plants still need water. Make sure the soil is moist so those roots can be strong and prepared for their slumber. Also, it’s time to add compost to your garden beds; and if you haven’t done so in a few years (or *ahem* never have), buy some pelleted lime and add that to the garden, as well. The instructions for how to apply it are clearly marked on the package.
Bonus Advice: Save your chrysanthemums!
Most people buy beautiful pots of chrysanthemums in September or October, only to toss them in the compost or trash once they’ve faded. You might be able to enjoy those flowers year after year by following these steps: Choose where you want your mums to live, and dig the hole for them now, before the ground freezes. Then, once the flowers have passed, break up the roots a bit and plop the plant in the pre-dug hole. No need to fertilize, but do mulch. If your mums survive this first winter, they’ll be hardy enough to come back year after year.
Now, get out there and put that garden to bed!