Final Preparations before Winter

Over the last several weeks, gardening has slowed down, but people are still calling and coming in with questions. This week, we’ll go through the most popular ones, so all you gardeners out there can share in the knowledge!

We certainly know it is getting cold; the plants do too. They would much prefer to last out the winter sunk into the ground rather than sitting up, all alone, in their pots on the surface. There is still time to plant! Don’t put those shovels away yet! As long as you can dig, even if there’s an inch or two of frost on the surface of the soil, those plants that you just hadn’t gotten time to put in the ground earlier this year can still be put in their proper places before the snow flies. By this point, most everything has gone dormant, and they’re certainly not going to be stressed from transplanting at this time of year. A couple extra inches of mulch on top of newly planted items will keep roots moist and insulated till things really freeze. After things have frozen, a nice layer of mulch will keep it that way, to prevent the freeze-thaw cycle that can heave plants up out of the ground. Mulch does not have to be bark, either. Pine needles (which we usually have an abundance of) are excellent for covering roses and especially plants that like acidic soil. Snow is also excellent mulch, and we seldom have a shortage of that.

Bulbs can still be put in the ground as well. Plant to the proper depth, add a little bit of bulb fertilizer or bone meal, and you’ll be rewarded with bright crocus, daffodils, and tulips next spring. No matter what you plant, give it a nice drink of water, just to settle the soil and provide some extra hydration to the roots.

On the veggie front, we have some extremely good news! According to experts at the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, Late Blight spores will not overwinter in this area. The pathogen survives in living tissue, and will be killed by freezing temperatures. A caution, though, to those of you that grew potatoes – infected tubers will harbor the disease, and should either be buried to a depth of two feet or dug up and destroyed. Do not put them in your compost pile.

It is still a good idea to be diligent with raking and cleaning your garden beds, to remove dead leaves and stems that harbor other garden diseases or insect pests. Pathogens like powdery mildew and blackspot will overwinter in this area, and will attack with a vengeance as soon as they get the opportunity.

Perennials should definitely be cut back and cleaned away as well, but leave the majority of the stems from woody perennials like Buddliea and roses. They seem to survive the winter better and have less severe dieback if some height is left. Hydrangea blossoms can be cut off to clean the plant, but don’t cut back too far if you have one of the macrophylla type (blue or pink ball flowers). These will bloom on the previous year’s growth if it survives the winter, so we would get flowers earlier. PG type plants can be cut back as far as desired or is necessary, as they bloom on new growth.

As a final note, wait to wrap your trees and shrubs until the world has really cooled off. Even using burlap, which allows for limited airflow through the plant, wrapping too early can lead to heating inside the cocoon on a warm day, which could potentially damage the shrub, or create a mold problem, if there is moisture inside. Critters could also take refuge inside the nice cozy wrap, which is exactly what we don’t want.