How to Get the Lawn and Garden Ready for Winter

Trista - October 22, 2019

Watching a garden flourish brings with it a feeling of fulfillment. You break your back during the springtime to get everything into the ground on time and then bust your butt trying to pick weeds in the summer months. Now that fall is upon us, and our garden is slowly dwindling, what do we do with our beautiful foliage? Even though snow may soon be covering everything in sight, it is still important to prepare your lawn and garden for the dropping temperatures. Here is a list of some ideas on what you can do to winterize your lawn and garden this year.

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Clean Up

Let us start simple. One of the most natural things you can do to prepare your lawn is to get rid of all your old and dead plants. Dead plants are bad news: they harbor fungi, disease, and pests. If any of these things stick around, you will have trouble with your next crops. During the summer months, insects lay their eggs on the stalks and leaves of your garden plants while they feed off the free food you have provided. Disposing of the infected old plants will prevent the eggs from hatching and attaching to your new plants come springtime.

If you like to keep your garden sustainable, try burying the dead plants in the soil of your garden. This will add organic material to the soil composition and help improve the overall health of your garden. Plus, it makes the decision of how to dispose of the old, decrepit plants that much easier!

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Bring Plants Inside

Although this tip does not pertain to the actual tending of a garden, it is still worth adding here. Some plants will not survive the harsh climate of the winter months; if you want them to survive until next spring, they need shelter.

This tip is for those who like to grow annuals and perennials in pots year-round. It is pretty simple to follow: move your containers either inside or into a garage/greenhouse when the first frost hits. When the weather warms up, take your plants back outside for one to two weeks. There is a method to this madness: following these steps will permit the plants to acclimate better to change in growing conditions. A sudden shift in temperatures may be detrimental to plant health, making this step crucial to a healthy garden.

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Remove Weeds

Dead plants are not the only growth causing problems in a garden. Weeds can encroach on your flourishing flowers and take away their vital nutrients, not allowing them to reach their full potential.

You have a few options here: you can either dispose of the weeds in the garbage, or you can burn them with your piles of autumn leaves. Merely tossing them into a pile in the yard may not be enough; invasive weeds may survive even after you have pulled them out of the ground. Complete removal and disposal is the only way to make sure your next garden isn’t more weed than flowers.

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Cover Seedlings

If you are unable to move your plants into the house for protection, this next tip may be for you. Seedlings can be covered outside to protect them from the elements while they grow. Although most seedlings can survive colder temperatures, fall vegetables are frail enough to warrant being covered.

To cover the plants, you can use pretty much anything you have around the house. When temperatures drop to freezing, try wrapping your tender seedlings with a few blankets. During the day, if the temperature rises above freezing, make sure you remove the sheets. You do not want your little babies overheating. Another viable option is to put a plastic covering over your garden — good news: the plastic traps more heat, which is great for overnight use. However, if you forget to remove the plastic during the day, it could cause damage to your plants due to the increased temperature.

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Prepare Your Soil

Gardens take work, even in the colder months. If you want a successful garden next year, it is essential to work on the soil, so it is healthy enough to support another season of crops. Right now is the perfect time to till the land before winter brings the cold and snow.

What exactly do you need to do to prepare your soil for winter? One option is to add nutrients to your dirt: you could use rock phosphate, manure, kelp, or bone meal. Remember, it would be most beneficial to add these things in the fall: it allows the nutrients time to break down and seep into the soil, building up soil health for easy planting in spring. Taking this extra step will allow you to work your garden earlier in the spring, getting a head start over your neighbor!

Another excellent option for soil health is a fall tilling. This aids in the drainage process; you will want dry soil in the spring before you can start planting your crops. After a successful soil enrichment, you will want to cover your garden with something (most people use a plastic cover). Why is this important? It ensures that any enrichment you have added stay where they need to be. This tip is especially crucial for raised flower beds because they drain more readily than beds in the ground. Do not forget to remove this covering once spring arrives!

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Watch For New Growth

Contrary to popular belief, some plants produce new growth in the colder months. This is usually the case if the summer was scorching. While further growth is exciting, it is very tender at this stage.

New growth may not mean the plant will flourish; if the new growth does not have the chance to harden before the next freeze, the new growth has the possibility of not surviving. So if you do notice further development on one of your plants, bring it inside or cover it up (tips above).

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Plant Cover Crops

Another misconception is that crops do not fare well in the fall, but that is not true. Planting during the colder months may help your garden flourish in the springtime.

Which crops fall under the category of cover crops? You have a choice between clover, rye, or vetch. Why are these plants so helpful? They help keep your soil from eroding, break up hard ground, and increase organic matter. Another useful tip is to cover your plants, as discussed previously. The rule of thumb here is to plant these crops about a month before the first frost appears.

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Winterize Water Features

Plants are not the only thing you need to worry about during the winter months. Water features are quite delicate and need to be protected as well. Not only can they become damaged themselves, but they can also destroy any pots or beds they are providing water to underground. Water freezes during the winter, even the water in small water features such as sprinklers regardless of the water is continually running through the apparatus. The frozen water can damage the pump and pot. How is this stopped? By draining your water features and storing them in the garage or a shed (somewhere warm mainly).

Small features are not the only kind to worry about. More extensive features and even ponds can freeze in the winter, depending on your particular climate. However, if there is enough moving water or the lake is deep enough, the water should not freeze over completely. If you have an irrigation system, you will need to winterize that as well.

Make sure there is no water in the system and shut off your timers. It may be necessary to drain the water from the pipes of the irrigation system. If any part of the irrigation system is exposed to the elements, it is crucial to protect them as well: wrap them in some material that acts as an insulator to keep them from freezing. Make sure you don’t block air vents or the motor pump when covering the irrigation system.

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Prune Perennials

Just because it gets colder doesn’t mean you stop working on your garden. Fall is the perfect time to spruce up your plants and make sure everything is healthy before winter comes, and your garden goes dormant. Pruning your plants is a great way to keep everything in order.

Which plants should be focused on for the fall pruning? If you grow rhubarb, rosemary, asparagus, thyme, blackberries, or sage, they may benefit from a little extra work. Pruning ensures a healthy garden, so make sure you mark it on your calendar!

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Prepare Fish for the Winter

If you have a genuinely extravagant garden with a pond full of fish, this may be the tip you’ve been searching for. It is essential to tend to all the features of your lawn and garden before winter hits. Fish are no exception.

I think we can all agree that Koi fish seem to be the most popular when we are talking about the population of home ponds. Koi fish enter a state of suspended animation during winter, so if you’re worried about them surviving, have no fear! The simple advice here is to feed them less when it’s cold so that they do not produce a ton of waste products. Too much waste in the winter can be a problem: the bacteria that are usually responsible for breaking down the waste products from the fish do not work as well when it is cold outside; too much waste in the water can compromise the integrity of the water. To prevent this from happening, limit feedings to the warm spells throughout the winter.

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Divide and Plant Bulbs

Not all of your plants will benefit from this tactic; newly flowering plants are the target here. Wait about two to three weeks after they have flowered before you start dividing and replanting.

This practice is useful in instances where plants have become overcrowded and scraggly looking during the growing season. Usually, you dig the plant up and transplant it to another area in the garden. However, in some instances, it may be better to transplant into a pot. Step by step instructions are as follows: dig four to eight inches away from the plant’s stalk, lift the bulbs gently out of the ground, and separate bulblets for immediate replanting.

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Keeping your soil in tip-top condition is vital to insulate your garden from the harsh winter climate. The best way to do this is to touch up your mulch around your plants.

Make sure that the mulch is between two and four inches thick for the best results. If a little clutter does not bother you, consider this tip: placing fallen leaves in your flower beds can protect your plants from the cold.

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Harvest and Regenerate Compost

You may be discouraged from having anything to do with this pile; you want to forget about it when the temperature starts to drop. Proper maintenance is required to keep your compost pile healthy. Here are a few tips you can follow to make sure you are getting the most out of your compost. First things first: whatever material you added during the summer months is almost surely done and ready to go. Using this material on your lawn and garden can help add needed nutrients and enrichment to help with growth come spring.

Another tip you could follow is to take this time to clean out your compost pile to make room for new material. Add all of your old compost to your lawn and garden (as noted above) and make space for a new pile to form. To insulate those hard-working microbes with the decomposition process, build your collection using kitchen scraps, autumn leaves, sawdust, and straw for optimal results.

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Winterizing Roses

Due to their delicate nature, roses require special care before they are ready for winter. Here are a few tips that may help keep thriving roses all year round. One tip you could try is to remove all foliage from around the base of the plant(s) to keep diseases from overwintering and coming back with a vengeance come springtime. Although keeping foliage in your garden bed may be beneficial, for roses specifically, it can be tremendously harmful.

Another good rule of thumb is to prune any branches that are dead, dying, or infected with pests. It may also be beneficial to cut any extra-long branches to prevent them from whipping around in the harsh winter winds. Both foliage and branches should go in the trash, not the compost. You could also spray your rose bushes with a fungicide; this will also help stop the spread of any diseases. Some harmful pests and diseases can survive the winter; taking these extra steps will ensure your plants’ survival until spring.

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Mow Your Lawn and Store Summer Bulbs

It may seem like something obvious to do, but mowing your lawn is a crucial step to keep your yard healthy. It is best to continue to mow your lawn until the grass stops growing. Not only will your yard look nicer, but shorter grass will make raking leaves that much easier.

Have a plant that you really want to grow next year? Save the bulbs! It is essential to pull them out of the ground before the first frost hits. You will want to keep them in a safe place for a few days while they dry out; after they dry, make sure you pull off any leftover soil. You can store them in peat moss or sawdust in a cool, damp place until it is time for planting.

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Aerate the Turf

Another typical spring activity that is also beneficial in fall, aerating your soil will help keep that lawn healthy and happy in winter. Why is aeration so important?

For a few reasons, actually. The process involves making holes evenly throughout the yard. This allows for water, air, and nutrients to more readily enter the ground and strengthen the roots of the grass. The stronger the roots, the deeper they will grow, making for a hardy lawn. The main reason you aerate the yard, however, is to help the soil not become too compact. Compaction leads to weak growth, which is the opposite of what we want.

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Collect Leaves

This tip ties into the one above. After you aerate (and mow!) your lawn, it is time to pick up all of those pesky leaves that have found their way into your yard. Proper aeration cannot occur if all of the holes you made in the ground are covered with leaves.

Remember, you can use theses leaves as a natural insulation in your flower beds and can also add them to your compost pile.

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Fertilize and Water Plants

To ensure a healthy lawn through winter, make sure that you find time in the fall to fertilize your lawn. Fertilization helps to strengthen the turf, which in turn creates a durable, healthy lawn capable of withstanding the winter weather.

It may seem counterintuitive to continue watering plants when the temperature starts to drop, and your plants go dormant. The opposite is true; if you have an unusually dry fall, do not hesitate to continue watering your plants. To ensure a hardy crop, continue watering until the ground freezes.

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Wrap Trees and Protect Plants

Frost will crack tree trunks, which is why it is essential to protect your trees during the winter months. You only need to worry about thin-barked trees. What causes this cracking to occur? Sap within the trunks will freeze at night when the temperature drops, expanding and causing the bark to crack. The solution comes in the form of paper tree wrap; place one inch below soil level and continue up to the lowest branches, adhering with duct tape. Set a note to remember to remove the paper tree wrap in spring so that new growth may take place.

If you live in an area overrun with curious critters, this tip is catered to you. To protect your plants from pests throughout the winter, consider placing wire-mesh screening around any vulnerable foliage.

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Clean Tools

During the spring and summer, gardening takes up so much time that tools often become neglected. Fall and winter are the perfect seasons for tending to your devices in place of your garden.

The first step is to get all of your tools clean by washing them with hot water and soap to remove any contaminated soil or debris. If your utensils have become rusted, make sure you remove that from your tools as well; you can use either sandpaper or a wire brush. Next, you’ll want to sharpen your tools using equipment such as a mill file or a whetstone. Last step: lather everything up with machine oil; this helps ensure your devices will last through the winter and are now ready for spring!

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Clean Out Pots

Water features are not the only aspect of a garden that can freeze and crack during the winter. If you leave the soil in a pot outside when temperatures start to drop, the containers can break and spill out everything contained within the pot.

Be sure to remove dirt from any outdoor pots before the first frost. If you want to clean out your parts, you may do so using one part bleach to nine parts water.

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Drain Hoses

Hoses are another component of garden and lawn care that needs to be prepared for winter. Make sure to drain all water hoses and store them inside to keep them from cracking.

Allow the tubes to dry before storing completely. Store watering cans in the same manner — empty out of all water, and store in a place where no water can be collected within the container.

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Power Equipment

These tools also need some attention before they can be stored for the winter. The most crucial step here is to empty the gasoline from every device in your arsenal that is filled with it. Any equipment that takes oil should be due for a change; fall is the perfect time to perform such maintenance.

If you happen to have anything that runs on an oil-gas mixture, be sure to drain and dispose of the contents properly before winter hits. You will also want to check air filters and spark plugs and replace anything that is old and worn. Make sure to clean off any grass or debris from any equipment before storage. Also, make sure to sharpen any dull blades before putting things away.

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Root Crops

Now that we have discussed some aspects of lawn and garden winterizing care let us focus now on specific garden plants and what you can do with them once winter comes. Root crops consist of plants such as parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, and beets.

These hardy vegetables can withstand frost, so leaving them in the ground once winter hits is not a big deal. Don’t let the ground freeze, though; near-freezing temperatures are the perfect conditions for the maturation of some crops, especially parsnips.

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Leafy Greens and Other Plants

This includes Swiss chard, kale, and cabbage. All three of them can withstand light frost, but outside leaves may become tough or damaged. Lettuce, on the other hand, cannot withstand frost at all.

The list of other plants consists of pumpkins, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and peas. These plants should be pulled and disposed of as soon as the frost rolls in. If you had a healthy crop, place the dead plants in your new compost pile! If you had an infestation of any sort, make sure you either burn your plants or throw them in the garbage, but not the compost pile. Clean out your garden of any support structures that were used for your plants.

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Oregano, Sage, and Basil

Although oregano can withstand the cold temperatures, it is crucial to protect your plants with straw mulch in winter. Sage is unique in that it does not need any special treatment for winter.

Basil is not as hardy as the other herbs mentioned so far. Basil needs to be dug up and brought indoors if it wants to survive through the winter.

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Rosemary and Chives

Care for rosemary depends on where you reside. If you live in Zones 6 or 7, your rosemary can stay outdoors but will need to be sheltered in some way from the elements. However, if you live in Zones 5 and colder, your plants will need to be taken inside for shelter.

Although hardy, chives need more complicated care than previously mentioned. First, you’ll want to dig up a clump of the plant and pot it. Leave it be and let the foliage die down and freeze for a few weeks. If you continue to water your plants, you will be harvesting chives all winter long.

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Thyme and Parsley

Thyme is another herb that does not take any preparation for winter; it naturally goes dormant in the fall and will come back to life in the spring.

Parsley can withstand a light frost. Some care is needed if you live in certain Zones; if you reside in Zones 5 or colder, you will need to cover your parsley on cold nights. Because of its long taproot, it does not transplant well.

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Fall is the season for pruning summer-bearing raspberries, and that is all the preparation these plants need for the winter months. Make sure to leave six of the most vigorous brown canes for every one foot of patch.

During this time, pruning of fall-bearing raspberries is also needed; however, you will want to cut these guys to the ground after they have borne their fruit. In the springtime, new canes will come up and bear fresh fruit.

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Blackberries, Blueberries, and Strawberries

Fall is the optimal time to plant blackberries. You will want to protect the canes, though; this is accomplished by mounding up the soil around the rods. If you do not do this, frost can rip your plants up out of the ground.

Blueberries can survive the winter months as well, but it is essential to provide your plants with a thin layer of mulch around the base. With strawberries, make sure to add a thin layer of straw mulch to the bottom to protect them throughout the colder seasons.

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Make sure to keep these plants watered throughout the fall. It prepares the plants for the harsh conditions brought on by winter. Once the ground has frozen, it is time to prune and prep; cut perennials back about three inches and cover with a layer of mulch covered by leaves or straw.

If you plan on replanting a bed in the spring, prepare the bed now before the cold weather hits. Cover the area you plan on cultivating with either mulch or plastic to discourage weed growth. If pachysandra grows in your garden, cover the base with a thick layer of pine needles before the snow starts to fall.

Dahlias, gladioli, and cannas need special attention: once their leaves have blackened from frost, they need to be moved. Dig them up and place them inside on the newspaper for a few days. After they are completely dry, pack them in shredded paper, styrofoam peanuts, or dry peat moss in a place that is dark and humid until spring returns. Chrysanthemums should also be replanted; once their flowers fade, take them to a sheltered spot. Be sure to water them all through winter and cover with a layer of straw to protect them from the elements.

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These plants go dormant in the dry winter months; before they go dormant, it is vital to keep them well watered. If you have a cool place in your house to store geraniums, it is possible to overwinter them. All that is needed is a place to rest and a little water!

Once spring rolls around, bring the geranium plants back into a warm place and water them more heavily than was needed during the winter. When buds appear, be sure to re-pot and prune the crap out of them. The best material to place geraniums in to overwinter them is plastic or glazed pots.

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These plants need special care before the weather conditions turn harsh. Their roots cannot freeze; if they do, they will not survive the winter. More massive evergreens in bigger pots may be fine if the winter is mild, but small plants in small pots will run into trouble. The best way to keep them safe during the winter is to place all small evergreens against a wall and cover the base with shredded leaves or mulch. Continue to water these plants throughout the winter months.