The air outside is getting nippy, the leaves are changing, and though there’s still time to enjoy the warmer temperatures of fall, we all know that “Game of Thrones” adage to be true: Winter is coming. If you have a garden or even just a yard, it’s time to start thinking about how best to prepare your plants for winter. Much of how to care for your greenery during the fallow, cold months depends on the climate you live in, but here are a few general tips that all gardeners should heed to make the seasonal transition:
1. Prune to protect
Fall is time to think about protecting your garden—and one of the best ways to do that is to do a thorough pruning of the existing plants.
“You want to get rid of anything diseased or insect-infested, because those can, over winter, infect your other plants,” says Melinda Myers, a gardening expert and the host of the “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. So uproot those annuals and trim the perennials back to the ground. Find out the proper way to dispose of these things depending on your municipality, too—in most places, yard waste has a special disposal process.
If you’re dealing with more of a lawn than a garden situation, the trick is to keep mowing your grass. Why? It will increase its winter hardiness so you have a more lush lawn come spring.
2. Plant a few new things, too
Fall is actually a wonderful time to think about planting, and for looking at some of the seasonal plant sales for inspiration.
“The air is cooler but the soil is still warm,” notes Myers. “For Northerners, that warm soil promotes root growth, while the cooler air is less stressful for plants. We tend to think of bulbs this time of year, but it’s also a great time to put in shrubs and even perennials. For warmer climates, you may be transitioning from summer crops to fall ones.”
If you enjoy watching the wildlife in your yard, planting a few ornamental grasses, trees, or shrubs with berries, or perennials—anything that has seedpods and could provide food for birds—will increase the diversity of wildlife on the property.
3. Keep plants warm
If you have vegetables or herbs and want to continue reaping the benefits, Myers suggests protecting them through the first hard freeze. You can do this a couple of ways: First, bring in cuttings from nonhardy plants before the first frost, root them, and grow them in a sunny window. Second, cover up the plants in the ground outdoors.
“Sheets work great,” Myers says. “You can cover them up late afternoons or evenings to trap the heat. But my favorite solution is using floating row covers, which trap heat but allow in light, air, and water. You can cover them and leave them on until the snow falls. I threw them on shallots, radishes, and spinach, and harvested greens that spring. And I’m in Wisconsin! It was great.”
Who knows? With a few of these simple steps, you could be eating salad fresh from your garden again by April.