I look forward to gardening season like kids look forward to Christmas, and I always feel a bit melancholy when winter comes and I’m stuck indoors looking at seed catalogs. However, the season doesn’t end with the first hard frost.
How you prepare your garden for winter will have a huge bearing on how easy and successful gardening is the following spring. There’s still time if you haven’t already winterized your garden. Plan to spend a few hours outdoors the next time it’s mild and dry, even in the dead cold of winter you do get a few scattered warm days. Here’s the to-do list that I follow each fall and winter:
- Trim back damaged or diseased plants and tree branches. Do heavy pruning any time between early and late winter, when the tree is dormant and the leaves are gone. The benefit of pruning during this season is that you can see the tree’s form very clearly, making it easier to prune accurately. You’re less likely to spread disease when trees are dormant, as well.
- Fertilize the lawn in late fall, according to Cornell University. You don’t want to fertilize while the grass is still actively growing. Wait instead until growth slows down, but before the ground freezes. The fertilizer will reach the roots, providing food for healthy growth in the spring.
- Clean out rain gutters. This is an absolute must so water drains properly from your roof. Remove debris with a broom or rake, and wash the gutters out with a pressure washer set on low, or a garden hose with a sprayer attachment. Seal any holes or leaks with a silicone caulking, and replace nails and screws.
- Clean outdoor furniture with water and a gentle scrub brush. Remove rust from metal with a steel brush and apply new paint, if necessary. Some wood furniture may benefit from oiling and restaining as needed. Store all outdoor furniture, such as benches, propane fire pit tables that are now a backyard fixture in most yards, in a shed or garage, or cover them with plastic tarps. Exposure to rain and snow will rust or warp outdoor furniture, reducing its lifespan.
- Clean and sharpen your garden tools before storing them. Here’s how: Brush off dirt with a brush or your hand. Mix 3/4 quart motor oil with sand in a 5-gallon bucket, adding sand until you have a mixture that is moist, but not wet. Place your tool blades in the sand to remove remaining dirt and condition the blades. Remove rust with a steel brush. Wipe the blades with motor oil or W-D-40, and sharpen them with a file or whetstone at a 20-degree angle. Store tools in a dry shed.
- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost wooden-handled spades or weeding forks in the garden because I can’t see them from the dirt and grass. Last year, though, I got smart. I bought a can of bright red spray paint and painted all the handles after I had cleaned them for the winter. Voila! Cute, attractive garden tools that never get lost.
- Remove garden debris. I sometimes leave perennials in place to insulate the plants’ roots or provide shelter for birds and rabbits, but I always clean my vegetable garden out. Leaving garden plants through the winter results in a slimy mess to clean up in the spring. It also promotes disease and provides shelter for insects to overwinter–two conditions I try to avoid.
While this seems like a lengthy list, you can easily complete most of it in a weekend. Although I’m always sad to tuck my garden in for the winter, I enjoy snuggling indoors with a warm fire or watching the snow fall on my bare trees.
As William Blake once said, “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
Photo by meganpru