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Timely Tips for Getting Your Garden Ready for Winter

It's fall time to forget about the garden, right? Not so fast getting your garden ready for winter can make a big difference next spring.

Instead of playing catch-up and fixing winter's damage, you'll be out gardening and enjoying your yard as soon as the first spring bulbs come up. A final garden cleanup is the first priority, so here's a checklist for the fall jobs to do around the yard and flower garden.

To Do: Around the Yard and Flowerbeds

  • Until the ground freezes hard, continue to water woody plants, especially trees and shrubs just planted this season and all evergreens. Evergreens especially need a good store of moisture going into winter because they don't lose their leaves, which means they continue to transpire (give off water vapor) through the cold months.

  • This is a good time to transplant shrubs or small trees that you have earmarked for relocation. Do this job when the leaves turn color and begin to fall.

  • In most regions, autumn is also an ideal time to plant new trees and shrubs, as there's still time for woody plants to make good root growth.

  • Put plastic or wire mesh tree guards around the slender trunks of any new trees and shrubs to protect them from gnawing animals such as rabbits and mice. Make sure tree guards reach high enough, over the snow line.

  • Don't cut roses back now wait until early spring. Hill up hybrid tea roses with soil for winter protection if necessary.

  • Pull out frost-killed annuals, and plant remains from the vegetable garden, and add spent plant material to your compost heap or home compost unit.

  • Whether you cut down dying perennial foliage or not when you're getting the garden ready for winter is up to you. Some gardeners like to leave seed heads and dried foliage for winter interest and to feed birds, while others prefer to leave neat beds ready for a show of spring-flowering bulbs. But remember: whatever you clean up now, you don't have to worry about in the spring.

  • Do one last weeding of your flowerbeds, and discard any weeds with seeds in the garbage instead of the compost. You don't want those pesky seeds sprouting in your garden next spring.

  • Consider shredding leaves and using them as winter mulch on flowerbeds. You can also add shredded leaves to the compost pile. In a season or so, they'll make compost, the best organic treat your garden soil can get. (Use a chipper shredder, if you have one, or just run your lawn mower over leaves.)

To Do: Last-minute Lawn Care
  • Rake fall leaves off your lawn. Leaving them on will smother the grass.

  • If you spray your lawn to kill weeds, the month of October is about the most effective time for this job.

  • Apply winterizing lawn fertilizer.

  • Do a final grass cutting. Long grass encourages low-temperature fungi.

  • Why not get your mower serviced and its blade sharpened in late fall so it will be ready for you in the spring?

Now you can put your feet up and relax, sure in the knowledge that your garden is all snug for its winter nap.

Garden writer, photographer and lecturer Yvonne Cunnington gardens on a country acreage, where she has plenty of space to try out the new plants and garden design ideas that she writes about. She is the author of a book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless. For more gardening tips, visit her website,

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