Readying for Winter
Although we usually think of the spring when it comes to gardening, fall gardening can be key to a healthier, more beautiful garden. We've put together a few articles to help you get your garden ready for the Spring, added a few on House Plants (because the fall is a great time for indoor gardening) and then threw in a few tips for the upcoming Winter. We hope you enjoy it.
Fall is here and after a sizzling summer, most of the country is finally starting to cool down. Now is the time to begin thinking about preparing your garden for the upcoming winter weather. Winterizing may seem like a daunting task, but a little bit of hard work and a little bit of know-how is all you need for success.
The most important factor in successfully winterizing your garden is knowing your plants' limits. For example, a tropical hibiscus would be doomed if left outdoors during a Minnesota winter. By learning as much as you can about your plants, you will be well-equipped to avoid leaving vulnerable plants exposed to winter weather.
The USDA has divided North America into eleven Hardiness Zones based on average minimum temperatures in each area. Familiarize yourself with your hardiness zone and keep it in mind when selecting plants for your garden. Only planting perennials in-ground that are appropriate for your area is crucial for success and will save you a lot of money and heartache. However, do not let this keep you from experimenting with plants that are not hardy in your zone. With some special care, even the most tender plants can be kept from year to year.
If you are growing a tropical plant in an area that experiences freezing weather, you will need to plant it in a container, then bring it inside near a southern-facing window and treat it like a houseplant over the winter. Once the temperature drops to 55°, tropical plants begin to become uncomfortable and need to be brought indoors. However, instead of bringing them straight in, it's beneficial to move your plants to a shady location outdoors for a couple of weeks. This will help to ease the stress on your plant as it transitions from outdoor sunlight to filtered indoor light. Of course, this will require keeping an eye on your weather forecast and planning ahead, but it can mean life or death for your tender plant! While your tropical plant is indoors, do not fret if you notice some yellow leaves. This is simply the plant's way of expressing displeasure with its least favorite time of the year.
For in-ground plants, especially evergreens, it is crucial to keep them well watered up until the ground has frozen. Although plants do not actively grow during their winter dormancy, they do lose moisture through their foliage and can easily desiccate as the winter wind blows. Providing your plants with plenty of water will prevent winter burn which can ultimately lead to the death of your plant.
Mulch is a gardener's best friend when it comes to in-ground plantings. A 4-6 inch layer of straw, shredded leaves or wood chips can make all of the difference when freezing weather arrives. As counterintuitive as it may seem, mulch helps keep the soil frozen, not warm. It also helps by retaining soil moisture and preventing root damage as the ground cycles between freezing and thawing.
Roses require a little bit of extra care when it comes to winterizing. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the base of the plant needs to be protected. This can be accomplished by mounding soil 6-12 inches up over the base of the plant, then adding a layer of mulch. In addition to mounding soil and mulch over the base, climbing roses should have their canes tied together and wrapped in burlap. If they are on a trellis, make sure it is sturdy enough to withstand the imminent wind and snowfall.
Trees also need some extra care for the winter. To protect the roots, apply mulch around the base of the tree, making sure to cover an area at least as large as the span of the branches. Young trees are especially vulnerable to damage from harsh weather conditions and hungry rodents. To minimize this risk, wrap the trunk of the tree with plastic tree guards, commercial tree wrap or burlap.
Winterizing containerized perennials is just as important as winterizing plants that are in the ground. Ideally, they should be moved into an unheated garage or basement that does not freeze for the winter, allowing them to go dormant. Of course, this is not always feasible, especially if you do not have a garage or basement. Some options for winterizing containerized plants is to bury the pots in the ground, then apply mulch like you would for in-ground plants. This is a good option to provide your plants with the protection their roots would have if they were planted in-ground while still enjoying the benefits of a containerized plant. You may also move your containers beside your home, wrap them in an insulating material such as bubble wrap or burlap and apply mulch to the top.
Keep in mind that not all containers are created equal, and when it comes to winter, bigger is better. The more soil your plant's roots have around them, the more likely they are to survive the winter. The material your containers are made from is also important. Ceramic or terracotta pots are more likely to crack and break than their metal or plastic counterparts. Heavy pots can be difficult to maneuver, but lightweight pots are more likely to topple in the wind. Always take these factors into consideration and purchase pots that best suit your needs.
Not only is it time to winterize your garden, it is also the time to begin forcing bulbs for winter blooming. Plants such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus can all be manipulated into blooming before spring arrives, bringing color and cheer to an otherwise dreary winter. Simply plant the bulbs with their tips exposed in the container of your choice, water them well and store them in a cool place. This can be a garage, a basement or even a refrigerator—just be sure to store them away from fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent rotting. While the bulbs are chilling, do not let them dry completely out. After the allotted time has passed, bring the container out into a sunny spot in your home and wait for the show! They will bloom in approximately 2-3 weeks.
Here are some guidelines for the amount of time each type of bulb needs to chill.
Tulips – 10 to 16 weeks Hyacinths – 12 to 15 weeks Crocus – 8 to 15 weeks Daffodils – 12 to 15 weeks Grape Hyacinths – 10 to 15 weeks
Autumn is all about planning ahead in the garden. Whether you're winterizing your plants or forcing bulbs indoors, you can be assured that your hard work will pay off and reward you with success in the future. So break out your gloves and gardening shoes and get to work—your garden will thank you!

Preparing for Cooler Weather