As the season draws to its close, it's important to wrap things up correctly in the garden to save yourself some headaches in the spring. Raking up leaves and cutting back perennials are the obvious tasks (Dreading doing it on your own? Call us to schedule a leaf removal or fall clean up!), but there's more to it than that. Today we'll go over 8 essential end-of-year tips to keep your garden healthy through the winter and leave it ready to go in the spring.
1. Dig up tender summer bulbs and tubers.
Dahlias, cannas, elephant ears, and caladium can all have their roots dug up and saved inside to be planted again next year. They should be stored in a dark, dry place that's cool enough to keep them from growing but not so cold that they freeze.
2. Plant spring bulbs.
Unlike the tropical and semi-tropical summer bloomers from the last tip, spring-blooming bulbs can take a hard freeze. The best time to plant hardy bulbs is in the fall before the ground has totally frozen. For a subtle but stunning early spring display check out some of our previous plants of the month: snowdrop, crocus, and winter aconite.
3. Prune deciduous shrubs.
If some of your deciduous shrubs (the ones that lose their leaves in the fall) are getting a little overgrown, late fall is the perfect time to cut them back hard to maintain their size without having to break out the shears or pruners five times during the season next year. For fast-growing shrubs you'll want to cut them down to about a foot smaller than the final size you want. Cut slower growers back about six inches shorter than what you want. This way when the new growth comes in next spring, the size will be just right. The one thing to remember is that spring-blooming shrubs set their flower buds the previous year, so if you cut them back hard now, you won't get many flowers next spring. For more info on good pruning practices, check out our posts on pruning 101 and two specialty pruning processes for really overgrown shrubs.
4. Divide perennials.
Fall is the perfect time to divide crowded perennials. In the middle of the summer, a plant will be stressed by both heat and water loss if you divide it. In the winter, the ground is frozen. Spring is a good time to divide plants as well with cool temperatures and more consistent rain, but some plants can be stressed if you dig them up just when they're starting to come out of dormancy. Different species have different division practices, and some don't want to be divided at all, so check out this article before you get started to make sure you're picking the best method for your plants.
5. Bring sensitive plants inside.
If you like to buy tropical or succulent plants to put on the patio for the summer, chances are you can save them inside over the winter to add a little green inside. Make sure you place the plant in a spot that meets its growth requirements. Don't forget to put a saucer underneath to catch water draining out!
6. Wrap young trees.
Rabbits, deer, and the sun can do some serious damage to the trunks of young, thin-barked trees during the winter. Rabbits feed on the bark and can cut off the tree's circulation if they do enough damage. Deer can damage the bark by rubbing their antlers on it. Thin-barked trees are susceptible to damage when the sun warms the bark (usually on the southwest side) just enough for sap to start flowing, and then the sap freezes, expands, and causes cracks overnight. You can avoid all of these problems by wrapping a loose-fitting, light-colored material around the trunk. Products specifically designed to protect tree trunks are available at many garden centers and hardware stores.
7. Disconnect hoses.
Like picking up leaves and cutting back perennials, this is a winterizing task most homeowners already know about, but it's so important I'm putting it on this list anyway. If you leave hoses connected to water spigots, they can freeze and build up pressure to break water lines inside the walls. This results in a big, expensive mess.
8. Fertilize, fertilize, fertilize.
Fall is one of the best times of year to fertilize trees, shrubs, perennials, and lawns. Nutrients applied just before the end of the season are more likely to be taken down into the roots to improve the plant's overall health for years to come. There are many options for fertilizing. Granular applications are the most popular, but one good option for trees is deep root fertilization. With deep root fertilization, we use a pressurized tool to inject a liquid fertilizer down into the soil where it is immediately available for roots.
With these eight tips, I hope you now feel more confident that you're taking care of your garden correctly for the winter. It can be hard to get yourself outside to do the work once it starts to get colder, but it will be worth it when it's easier to get your landscape going again in the spring. And of course you can always call us at 317-251-GROW or fill out a contact form if you want us to do the work! Visit our maintenance page to learn about our full range of services.