Winterizing the Garden

After the garden has done its part by providing color and beauty during the spring and summer months, fall is the time to reward it with some TLC.

  • Dig up bulbs for flowers such as dahlias and gladiolas after the first frost. Store them, for the winter, packed in peat, in a cool, dry place where they are out of the reach of hungry rodents.  Replant them in the ground in mid-May and protect them at night with an inverted clay pot until the fear of frost has passed. Note: These bulbs can be started in pots as early as February or March, inside, in a warm, sunny environment. They can be put into the ground when they sprout and when the weather permits, in late May.
  • Divide perennials such as hostas and peonies. While this can be done in the spring, these perennials seem to thrive better when divided in the fall.
  • Cut back perennials to approximately three inches above the ground. This will promote healthier blooms in the spring.
  • Rake out the flower beds and apply a layer of mulch, so that the beds are full of healthy nutrients come springtime.

Fall is the time to plant the spring flowering tulip, hyacinth, daffodil, crocus and iris bulbs for a profusion of color nest spring.

  • If you are in doubt as to how deep to plant any variety, use the simple rule of thumb: plant three times deeper than the greatest diameter of the bulb. For example, a two inch diameter requires a six inch planting depth.
  • Bulbs prefer a sandy soil, although they will grow in almost any type of soil that is well drained. In heavy soils, place a small amount of sand under each bulb to improve the drainage.
  • When planting bulbs, mix in ample amounts of peat moss and bulb fertilizer.

Once the gardens have been cleaned up, it is an appropriate time to test the soil for nutrient content and pH level. Your locale Cooperative Extension Office (see below) can test your samples and advise you as to what nutrients are needed to enhance your soil. Adding these nutrients in the fall will give your soil plenty of time to absorb all the healthy ingredients before you’re ready to plant in the spring. Top off your garden plot with 3 or 4 inches of mulch or compost and let it lie there throughout the winter. Incorporate this into the soil in the spring before planting. This final layer helps protect any plant roots remaining in the soil.

If you have not been taking photographs all summer of the various stages of your garden like avid gardeners do, now is the time to take some photos and make some notes on what worked and did not work. Draw a simple diagram of the garden and flowerbeds and note where the perennials are planted so you don’t damage them while planting annuals in the spring.

REMEMBER . . . . While these tips seem like a lot of work now, you will be delighted with the outcome in the spring.

USDA-Cooperative Extension Offices

National Gardening Association


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