How to Winterize Your Garden
When the growing season winds down, gardeners clean out, cut back and protect their gardens for the upcoming winter. Cutting back the perennials not only gives the garden a cleaner appearance for winter, but makes spring clean up a breeze.
Cutting Back Perennials
Prune most perennials to a few inches to a foot from the ground since a hard frost will kill any herbaceous growth. Some people prefer to leave plants like Purple Coneflower unpruned until late in the season because the birds will eat the seeds. Once the seed heads shatter (break apart) cut the plants back as low as desired. Sedum are another perennial that can be left standing until late in the season to provide some cover for birds and animals. The plant and seed heads turn a bronze color late in the season adding a touch of color to the garden.
Once your annuals have died back from a hard frost then simply remove them from the garden into the compost pile or trash.
Store Biennials, Tender Perennials or Annuals
Plants like Caladium, Dahlia, Cannas and Gladiolia may survive a mild winter but generally don’t survive Pennsylvania winters. Dig these plants with a pitch fork to remove the bulb/root. Cut the growth off right above the bulb/root and gently shake off any excess soil. Store these with peat moss or saw dust in a breathable netted bag or old nylons and hang them to allow for air circulation.
If you have Hybrid Tea Roses, you can pop them out of the ground and lay them on the ground and cover them with a heavy layer of straw to protect them from the elements. Roses in general can be protected from harsh winter elements by pruning as shown in the black and white sketch and then further protected by a layer of soil, leaves and evergreen branches as shown in the other sketch.
Generally you prune deciduous shrubs immediately after blooming so you don’t prune off next year’s flowers. Keeping that in mind, you can hand prune any wayward branches to enhance the shape of the plant or simply prune back if encroaching upon a walkway etc.
Many evergreen shrubs can be pruned using electric shears. Use Boxwood and Holly trimmings to make garlands or wreaths for the holidays. Don’t prune Rhododendron at this time of year or you will remove the flowers for next spring.
Many gardeners prefer to protect evergreens and other tasty plants from deer browsing in the winter. Yew, Arborvitae, Roses, Viburnum and Hydrangea a favorite deer food just to name a few. You can wrap the shrubs in plastic or burlap, or for full protection you can put up temporary deer fencing around the perimeter of your property.
To keep the gardens looking great all winter re-edge the beds and put a fresh inch or two of mulch over the entire bed.
Bird Food and Habitat
For those who are bird lovers or want to provide habitat for birds during the winter you will want to keep some perennials and ornamental grasses in the garden until late winter. Birds will feed on the seeds of many shrubs and perennials as well as use the plants for shelter/cover. Some homeowners enjoy the sounds that ornamental grasses and other plants make on a windy day.