When spring has sprung and the garden is showing signs of new life, the steps that were taken the previous autumn to prepare it for the winter months will be evident. Winterizing a garden, just like winterizing a home or an automobile, doesn’t take a great deal of time or effort, and the benefits far outweigh the time and effort spent.
The end of the growing season is the ideal time to take photos or make drawings of the garden layout, marking the location of perennials so as not to inadvertently disturb them before they return next spring. This is also a good time to decide what worked out well in this year’s garden configuration, what should be repeated next year and what should be replaced with something different.
Out With the Old, In With the New
Fall is the time to clean up any debris in the garden, removing the annuals after they have completed their growing cycle, and discarding leaves, weeds and any unhealthy or unwanted growth. This will insure the winter garden doesn’t harbor unwanted insects or other pests. This is also the time to plant flower bulbs expected to bloom in the spring. Putting a layer of gravel in the bottom of the holes dug for bulbs will help protect them from rodents and a layer of good topsoil will offer protection from the winter cold.
Fertilizer, Mulch, Compost and Topsoil
Once the current growing season has ended, the soil will likely be depleted of many essential nutrients and these need to be replenished. Soil should be tested for pH and adjusted accordingly. Acidic soil, which has a pH level below 6.0, should be given ground limestone. Alkaline soil, with readings of 7.5 or more, should have soil sulfur added.
One simple and easy way to replenish nutrients into garden soil in the fall is to add organic compost, which consists of dead organic material such as hay, straw, leaves and grass clippings. A good organic fertilizer containing blood meal will add nitrogen to the soil, promoting lush, green growth next year and is especially good in soils with low pH levels. Adding compost and organic fertilizer in the fall allows them time to decompose into the soil completely during winter.
A two- to four-inch layer of MULCH placed over the TOPSOIL (after weeding has been done) is ideal for keeping weeds abated, protecting the ground from the cold, helping retain moisture and deterring soil erosion. It also looks better in a garden than bare soil and will slowly release nutrients into the ground.
Mulch can be bought or made at home from shredded leaves, bark, grass, sticks or other organic material. Since mulch is meant to be protective and decorative, not mixed into the soil, there is an almost endless list of materials that can be employed, from asphalt and oyster shells to sawdust or wood-chips. These winterizing steps will ensure a healthy and easy to care for garden next growing season.