Nothing is more irritating than planting something new only to have it die during the winter. And it's usually a favorite plant – or an expensive plant. Increase the odds of plants surviving the winter by preparing them properly for the winter. Properly preparing your plants during the fall and having a successful overwinter is the key to healthy plants in the spring states Tammy Sons of Tennessee Wholesale Nursery, a leading mail order plant nursery shipper.
Get Rid of the Old
Go through your gardens and look for plants with insect or disease issues. Pull them out. Burn or bag diseased plants – don't put them in the compost pile as they'll transfer disease to the garden when using the compost. Leave healthy plants in place. Their dead foliage will rot into the ground and add nutrients for next year's plants.
Be sure to get rid of any invasive weeds that popped up during the growing season. Dig them up and put them in the trash or kill them under tarps. Please don't put them in the compost pile, as the roots and seeds will start growing as soon as it warms up. The invasive weeds will come right back wherever you spread the compost.
Take Stock of Your Plants
Look at what you have in your garden. Remove anything that didn't do well or unwanted plants. Amend the soil now so that it's ready for the plants you want to plant during the spring. Separate spring bulbs and replant them now. Waiting until spring means that they might not bloom, or if they do, they'll bloom late. Divide daffodils, crocuses, tulips, hyacinths, and garlic in the fall.
The planting hole needs to be about three times the length of the bulb. Thus, if the bulb is an inch high, the hole needs to be about 3 inches deep. While the bulbs don't need water, it's a good idea to water the soil – it makes it harder for animals to dig them up.
While taking stock of your plants, cut them back, but wait until after the first killing frost. If it is going to be some time before the first killing frost, mark the plants to cut back. Cutting them too early prevents the energy in the upper part of the plant from flowing to the roots, where the plant stores it for the winter. Cut perennials to no more than 4 to 6 inches tall.
Roses are fragile, and I prefer that you cut them back about a week before the first heavy frost. Cut the canes to about one-third of their height, then mulch them with 4 to 6 inches of mulch to protect the graft union.
Leave Some Plants Standing
Some plants are pretty, even after losing their foliage, thanks to the unique seed heads. Plants such as blackberry lilies, coneflowers, thistles, and sunflowers all have interesting seed heads. Leave them standing through the winter. In addition to being eye candy for you, they'll provide birds with a place for cover. The seeds that the birds do not get will fall to the ground during the winter and grow in the spring, thus filling out the garden more.
Spread Compost and Mulch in the Fall
Adding the compost to the garden in the fall gives it time to break down for use in the early spring. It also protects the roots of your plants from the cold. Top off the compost with protective mulch, but do not add the mulch too early. You'll give the mice and other pests a great place to hang out. Wait until it gets colder and these pesky critters have holed up elsewhere – and hopefully not in your house. During the winter, the mulch helps regulate the soil's temperature and reduces the stress of the cold on the plants.
Protecting Trees and Shrubs
Getting trees and shrubs ready for winter is a little different than perennials. Hold off on pruning until the spring – the wounds will not heal before the cold sets in. Plus, when you prune trees and shrubs, it stimulates new growth. If that growth doesn't harden before it gets too cold, it will die.
Build a wood frame for the shrubs and small trees. Before the first heavy frost, cover the frame with clear plastic. You can leave it on for the rest of the winter. But, make sure the plastic does not touch the plant, or it will burn it. If using dark plastic or cloth, remove it during the day if the temperature is warm enough.
For fruit trees, wrap the lower part of the trunk with a tree wrap meant to deter pests. This prevents mice and other pests from chewing on the bark during the winter. The wrap also prevents premature thawing if you tend to get warm sunny days during the winter.
Bonus: Prepping for a Live Christmas Tree
If you plan on buying a live Christmas tree, dig the hole for it now. Store the soil in the garage or basement – somewhere where it won't freeze. Cover the hole with a piece of plywood or scrap metal lying around. Mark it with a stake so you can find it in deep snow. When you're ready to put the Christmas tree out, uncover the hole, set the tree in, and backfill with the dirt, you saved.