Winter’s coming so get ready to put your yard to bed

Local garden specialists talks about making your garden safe for winter.

The recent spell of beautiful late summer weather may have fooled us into believing that winter is a long time away but the fresh snow on the mountains is a reminder to put your yard to bed so things emerge next spring with as little damage as possible.

Give your lawn a final cut before winter. Set the mower low so you don’t have to deal with long, dead grass next spring. That last mowing also serves to collect leaves to put them on the compost pile. Smashing them up with the mower and mixing them with grass clippings helps to break them down in the compost. Fertilizing the lawn with a “winterizer” fertilizer at this time is also a good idea. Be sure that the fertilizer definitely states that it is for fall use. It must be low in nitrogen and high in potash. Remember, the numbers are always N-P-K, meaning Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potash. Of course, if you want to use the leaves as mulch on your roses and perennials to protect them over winter, it is better to rake up the leaves and use them whole because they trap more air and don’t smother the plants.

Have you planted your spring flowering bulbs yet? They MUST be planted before winter. If you forget to plant them, by next April they are only good as compost. If you have problems with deer, plant daffodils. Deer will not touch daffodils. The best show is achieved by planting bulbs in clumps of an uneven number. Don’t forget to water them well after planting.

Dump the soil in clay and ceramic pots on your compost pile or directly on the garden. The pots need to be dried out before storing them. Freezing temperatures will destroy wet clay and ceramic pots. Put concrete and ceramic bird baths on their sides so water doesn’t collect in them over winter.

Clean, sharpen and oil your garden tools before hanging them up before winter. Run the gas tank empty on your lawn mower and your garden tiller or add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. If you don’t you may have problems starting those tools next spring.  Wooden tool handles can be kept from cracking by rubbing them with linseed oil. If you use sprayers, make sure they are empty and washed out with hot soapy water before storing them.

Remove the remains of all annuals from your flower beds and put them in the compost pile, unless you had real insect problems, in which case it is best to put them in the garbage. Cut back perennials close to ground level in late fall, except for ornamental grasses, lavender and Russian sage, which are pruned back in early spring. Did you remember to bring your chair and lounge pillows inside? Your resident squirrel will thank you if you didn’t. The contents make a lush lining for their nests.

Protect tree trunks from assorted rodents and deer that enjoy eating tree bark during the winter by placing spiral plastic tree protectors around them. An alternative is a material called “Skoot”. It is a bitter tasting deterrent that, when sprayed or painted on, will protect trees and shrubs. If you use it, you may find some bite marks because the animals have to first taste the stuff. To keep the branches of upright junipers and cedars erect, cover them with plastic mesh or green twine that is spiralled down from the top the full length of the evergreen. Covering them with burlap also helps to reduce snow damage and it also prevents desiccation in the spring.

Clean up all dead rose leaves after they have fallen and put them out with the garbage to help prevent black spot next year. Trim roses back to about 36”. Surround the base of Floribunda, Hybrid tea, Grandiflora and English roses with a rose collar and pack half garden soil and half composted cattle manure into the collar. Climbing roses do not need to be pruned back but hilling their base with soil will help protect the roots.

Shrub roses and the Canadian Explorer roses don’t need extra protection but they also appreciate a mixture of soil and manure hilled around the roots.

Finally, water all your garden beds, trees and lawns deeply before freeze-up. Then turn off and empty all outside waterlines, garden hoses and sprinklers to prevent frost damage. And if you find, next spring, that you have a problem from road salt, apply agricultural gypsum. It will absorb the sodium from the salt-laden soil and prevent plant damage.


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