Taking the time to prepare your garden for winter can improve your soil and overall make next year’s crop plentiful.
“What we recommend to people that may be new to gardening is that they wait until their perennials have died back or turned brown for the season and then go ahead and clean that up and throw it away,” said Julie Severa, manager of Allen Landscape in Highland.
“After the debris is cleaned up, they should spread a fresh layer of mulch over the top. This is especially important when they have plants that are a bit more sensitive to cold temperatures, like roses. The mulch adds an additional layer of insulation to protect them throughout the winter.”
Rosie Lerner, Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist, agreed with Severa and said removing the spent foliage is an excellent way to reduce the chance for fungi and insect pests to over winter.
“The goal of winter mulch is to keep plants dormant through the winter, so it must be applied after the ground is cold and plants are fully dormant. The timing of application will vary from year to year with the weather, but generally will be appropriate sometime between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays,” said Lerner.
Winter mulch isn't necessary for all garden plants, but it can help less hardy plants survive the cold. The main purpose of winter mulch is to protect against temperature fluctuations in the actual soil and to prevent extreme cold temperatures from damaging plants.
Another way to help your plants survive the cold is continue watering up until the ground is frozen.
“The reason for watering is, especially for evergreen plants, they will lose water all winter long. If we get a dry spell during winter, they can actually run out of water due to transpiration. Therefore, watering until the ground freezes helps to prevent some of that from occurring. If you have new plants, they can also benefit from continued watering into the fall,” said Nikky Witkowski Lake County Extension Educator.
Jennifer Johnson, manager of Johnson Farm Produce in Hobart, agrees.
“We do water out perennials after we put them away for winter to ensure they have moisture before going dormant. They do not require much water after they have gone dormant, and if they are too wet they will rot and die. So you definitely don't want them water logged,” said Johnson.
Putting plants to rest for winter can also mean pruning to control size.
“The first rule of thumb with any flowering plant is to prune it after it flowers. So that is the first reason to use as whether you should prune in the fall or not. If it flowered in the spring, pruning in the fall would potentially remove the spring flowers. Therefore, fall blooming roses can be trimmed to remove blooms and control size. However, I usually encourage people to wait until early spring to go too crazy, as you can have winter kill as well,” said Witkowski.
“I do not recommend fall pruning of roses or much else for that matter. Only need to prune them if you have to put cones on them for winter protection.”
Larry and Kathy Madden of Highland have been growing a variety of roses for over 20 years and have always pruned them. “We prune them before it gets real cold – so November maybe, depending on the weather. I throw a little fertilizer next to the stem and then cover it with a bucket,” said Larry.
For more tips on how to prepare your garden for winter visit www3.ag.purdue.edu/extension.