Happy Fall, y’all! If you haven’t already, it’s time to get those gardens put to bed. If you’re a procrastinator like me, that’s ok, it just means more clean up in the spring.
Putting your perennials to bed for the winter is probably the easiest. I like to trim them down to 8-10” or so and remove any straggling branches. Remove any diseased or buggy leaves and branches and destroy them. This is to limit the recurrence of any infestation next year. It’s also good to take some time and weed the bed, as any perennial weeds will take off in the spring. Be sure to get as much of the root as you can! Then give them a final deep watering before freeze up which provides moisture to the plant and helps prevent any root injury from frost.
Dig up and store any tender bulbs such as dahlias, caladiums, cannas or tuber begonias, that won’t survive the winter. Once a perennial is finished flowering, you can split/divide it. Fall is a great time to split as you know all plants are finished flowering.
It’s nice to give them a good mulching layer. You can use peat, sawdust, bark or leaves. The mulch helps to insulate your plants from the bitter cold and ensures some protection before the snow falls. Snow is also an excellent insulator, but one can’t always predict when or how much will fall. Also, many plants under rooflines don’t get the snow, so mulching helps those plants. You can also shovel snow onto those plants that are at the back of beds. Be sure to pull back the mulch and snow (if you can) in the spring to allow thaw. Plants that stay covered tend to take longer thawing and as such take longer to leaf out, bloom, etc.
Winterizing Your Trees & Shrubs
Winterizing your trees and shrubs can take a little longer sometimes. To start, be sure to remove and destroy any diseased or buggy leaves. You want to limit the possibility of recurrence next year. Also, stop fertilizing as this will encourage plants to grow, and we want them prepping for winter.
Periodically, some shrubs benefit from being trimmed down to 24” or so, such as potentilla or spirea. In the spring they will fill out nice and bushy and not appear all scraggly and scruffy as they tend to do. Especially after heavy snowfalls which often bend the branches.
Tender evergreens and shrubs may need to be staked and wrapped lightly with burlap to help prevent any desiccation from the wind over the winter. It’s also helpful against the wet snows we can get in the late fall, early spring. If it’s a plant particularly susceptible, such as a shrub from a warmer zone (ie Endless Summer hydrangea) you may want to stuff it with dry leaves or straw. Leave a small gap between mulch and trunk (about 4”). Pack snow around its roots once the snow starts to accumulate. As with perennials, be sure to remove the mulch and snow once spring has arrived to ensure a timely thaw, otherwise it will take too long to leaf out and bloom in our short season. You can choose to wrap the burlap directly around the tree/shrub, wrapping the plant about 2-3 times making sure to overlap the edges with each revolution around. Make sure not to wrap too tightly. Secure with twine. Or you could choose to build a little shelter of sorts. Place stakes, which are slightly higher than the bush, in a circle around the shrub, about 12” out. Wrap the burlap around the stakes to a height just above the plant. Secure with twine. Be sure to remove the burlap in the spring to allow sunlight and air circulation to get at the plant.
Give them a thorough watering before freeze up to help prevent desiccation and root injury.
If you have trees that tend to get Southwest injury or sun scald (ie the bark is cracking and splitting where the sun hits them in the heat of the day) then you can paint them with watered down white latex paint. This reflects the sunlight off the trunk, not allowing it to heat up. The splitting comes when the trunk heats up and expands during the day and cools off and contracts in the night.
Also, wrapping your trees and shrubs’ trunks at the base of the plant can help prevent any injury or girdling from mice and other rodents. I find the plastic white wraps to be easy to use and helpful against little teeth.