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Ask a Master Gardener: Putting the Garden to Rest

Phyllis — Dec 09, 2022

Here we are again in December! Every year it seems to come faster. I know this is such a busy season, but the garden needs to be put to bed for the winter.

Many of you are already into very cold weather, but others are just preparing for the true winter months. Winterizing your garden is an integral part of preparing your vegetables, flowers, and shrubs for the next growing season. Let’s take a look at how to prepare your garden for the winter months.

Make sure all leaves are raked up from your lawn. If you are using leaves as mulch, make sure you chop them up (that’s what a lawn mower is for). Otherwise, they will become a barrier and prevent rain from getting to the ground.

raking leaves

Annual flowers, such as marigolds and petunias won’t be returning on their own next spring, and neither will some of your favorite vegetables, including tomatoes and radishes. Annual plants grow for only one season, so now is the time to dig them up and put them in the trash.

Like plant debris in the garden, weeds camping out in the garden through winter can host many pest eggs and pathogens. It’s wise to limit real estate for these harmful organisms to protect next year’s crops.

If your yard and beds are not getting natural water, make sure you continue to water your plants and trees. This should be done every week until the ground freezes. Once the freezing weather sets in, I always disconnect my water hoses and drag them to the garage for the winter.

frost on ground

If you haven’t put mulch out, this is a great time to mulch all beds and trees. I usually add more in areas where the birds have scratched it away. Mulch protects your plants from the cold and insulates the ground to protect roots.

I leave seed pods on my perennials in the garden as food for the birds. Mulch also supplies nibbles for our winged friends, as insects nest and stay warm in the mulch. The birdbaths should be emptied to prevent freezing and cracking as the cold arrives. I set out a few metal pans with water for the birds which will not crack and can be easily cleaned.

Now is also the time to clean garden tools and store them in a dry area. I clean my rakes, shovels and hoes with a little Clorox in a gallon of water. The Clorox kills germs and any diseases that might be sitting on the tools. Dry them well and hang them up to rest.

garden tools

I take advantage of this down time in the yard to take all of my sharp edge clippers and tools to my local hardware store to have everything sharpened and oiled. They also clean these tools, preventing the spread of disease in my garden.

As your plants and tools rest, it’s time for you to rest too–that is, after you prepare for the holidays! Wherever you are, whatever your plans, I wish you all love, laughter and happiness during this season. 

Love our Ask a Master Gardener column? Check out Phyllis's previous columns here!

Phyllis Ferguson

Phyllis is a Master Gardener growing in Zone 7 in Charlotte, North Carolina. She loves working in her landscape with flowering shrubs and perennials, planting around ponds and water features, and taking care of her dogs and her backyard chickens.

A longtime Master Gardener educator in North Carolina, Phyllis is sharing her best tips for plant selection, gardening, landscape care and more with FastGrowingTrees.com.

Questions? Contact Phyllis at information@fastgrowingtrees.com.

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