For 40 years, the Morton Arboretum’s Plant Clinic has helped the local community and green industry tackle tough plant questions. Free of charge, the Plant Clinic is a great resource for a wide variety of plant-related issues, including selection of trees, shrubs and other plants appropriate for the Midwest, diagnosing and managing insect and disease problems, and general plant care. Have plant questions for this column? Send them to email@example.com.
Q: Being a new gardener, I’m wondering if there’s anything I should be doing to my garden to prepare it for the winter. Can you help?
A: Fall is a great time to evaluate your landscape and make notes for next year. Were you happy with how the garden looked all season or is there an area that needs a little more color or texture? How does the garden appear when you look out your window? Or do you need to add some winter interest or create a focal point?
Right now is a great time to think about putting your garden “to bed.” The more time spent tidying the garden in fall means less work next spring. Following are some tips to help you prepare your garden for the winter:
- Cut back perennials as they finish flowering or decline in appearance. These plants can be cut back to the ground. If you have plants that might provide seeds for the birds in winter, wait and cut them back in spring. Discard diseased plants; do not compost as they harbor spores that can infect next year’s new growth.
- Clean up annual flower beds and vegetable gardens after they stop producing. Plant debris can be composted or tilled right into the soil to enrich it.
- Leave ornamental grasses and interesting seed heads for winter interest (they can be cleaned up in early spring).
- Continue to water all plants, especially evergreens, until the ground freezes, as rainfall has been sporadic lately.
- Protect against animal damage in winter, by putting a cylinder of fencing around your plants. This type of fencing provides a good barrier against rabbits, rodents, and deer that feed and damage the bark and twigs of plants during winter months. Don’t let the fencing rub against the trunks of trees and shrubs.
- Rake fallen leaves and compost or shred with lawn mower and place around landscape plants.
- Apply winter mulch to the base of roses and tender perennials once the ground begins to freeze.
Some pruning can also be done from fall into winter. Trees that lose their leaves (deciduous) can be pruned once they go dormant, and so can shrubs that bloomed in late summer or fall. Don’t prune evergreens until next spring as new growth begins. Also wait on spring–blooming shrubs. They already have next year’s flower buds and if they are pruned now, flowering will be reduced. Prune them after flowering in the spring.
As you wrap up for the season, don’t forget to clean and sharpen your tools so they will be ready to go when spring arrives.