Winter Garden Preparation
If heading outdoors to tend veggies and flowers when the mercury dips toward freezing is not your idea of a good time, then take action now. Putting your garden to bed properly as we head toward winter will ensure that when spring arrives, both you and your garden will be ready to start off on the right foot.
Where To Begin
There are several groups of tasks that will get your garden and equipment in top shape for spring. As cold weather threatens, begin with tasks that address the garden itself and finish with tasks that can be accomplished indoors. Between fall and winter, plan on tackling the lawn, the landscape, the vegetable garden, containers and annual beds, garden tools and machinery. Your particular order of completion will depend on a lot of variables, just try not to paint yourself into a corner—for instance, by winterizing tools that you may need to use for another project.
Warm-season grasses like bermuda and zoysia will go dormant in winter and won’t use fertilizer during that time. Applying a fall application of weed preventer and a final mowing when they go dormant should suffice until they begin to wake up in spring. Cool-season grasses may need to be overseeded and fertilized at this time. Overseeding and weed prevention do not mix! Read and apply all treatments according to manufacturers’ directions.
Fall is a great time for planting trees and shrubs. Also, spring-flowering bulbs should be planted around or after the first frost date. Leaves are garden gold, find a way to reuse them!—mow fallen leaves into the lawn, or grind them up and use them for mulch, compost or leaf mold. Remove dead branches from trees and shrubs at any time, but Fall is not a good time for pruning as it will stimulate new growth that will be damaged when cold weather arrives. Touch up mulch to insulate roots from the threat of freeze damage.
The Vegetable Garden
Remove crop residues and send them to the compost pile. Plant a cover crop to maintain good soil texture, scavenge nutrients from the soil and help dry the soil for planting in spring. A good mix includes a grass, a legume and a brassica—oats, peas and radishes or annual ryegrass, clover and turnips are some good examples. Mulch perennial crops like horseradish, asparagus and rhubarb.
Seasonal Containers and Annual Beds
Empty, clean and store pottery to avoid damage. Send contents of these, along with summer annuals, to the compost pile. Plant winter annuals like pansies, stock, snapdragons, ornamental cabbage, kale and chard. Remember to feed winter annuals with a cold-weather fertilizer, as most are heavy feeders and some fertilizers don’t work in the cold. Mulch winter annuals well and use a weed preventer at planting time to avoid pulling weeds in miserable conditions.
Give hand tools a good cleaning with a wire brush to remove caked on dirt. Hone the edges of sharp tools, including shovels and hoes, to ensure they will work smoothly next year when you need them. Wipe the metal parts with an oily rag for rust protection. Sand down wood handles to remove splinters, and rub in a generous amount of tung oil.
Thoroughly clean all machinery: undersides of mower decks, insides of chainsaws, rototiller drive shafts and tines, etc. Change oil and, if applicable, oil filters. Change spark plugs and fuel filters if the usage time warrants. Run the gas tank dry in any equipment that will not be used over the winter, add a fuel stabilizer for equipment that may be used intermittently and to the gas cans as well. Sharpen blades on mowers, tines on tillers and chainsaw blades. Clean and spray paint metal body parts that have been scratched. Test batteries on machinery when applicable. Tune-up two-cycle engines or send them to the shop for this task.