It’s painful to lose your beautiful plants during the winter months. You’ve worked hard on your garden all year, and now you’ve put it to bed for the dormant season, and things don’t look as good as they used to. The idea that plants have been dying over winter does not appeal to anyone.
Despite past experience, you won’t have to worry about your plants surviving winter this year. Plan ahead and use some tried-and-true techniques, so they’ll not only survive, but also thrive. If you do this, your garden will grow better than ever when spring temperatures arrive next year.
Others need a little help to survive the winter. Some plants are hardy and can survive without a lot of help.
Plant to Your Zone
When it comes to preventing plants from dying in the winter, ensure you “know your zone.” If you’re going to add new plants to your garden, be certain they will be able to withstand the seasonal temperature fluctuations in your specific area.
Plants need the correct zone to thrive, and if you follow this advice, you will be able to keep your plants healthy and keep your winter workload down. Ask your nursery advisor for help choosing plants for your area.
Bugs and diseases can overwinter on debris that was removed in the fall. Removing dead branches and foliage allows your yard to be bug-free in the winter. Pruning diseased and broken parts of a plant is essential, as is removing branches that are rubbing against one another.
In this way, plants can prevent diseases from entering spring and can be protected from breaking during the winter, which could introduce disease into a healthy plant.
Divide Your Perennials
Perennials that need dividing need to be done before winter sets in. Divide the plants at least six weeks before freezing temperatures set in so they have time to re-establish themselves.
I cut perennials back to about three inches once the ground freezes (or when the coldest temperature in your zone is reached), after which I mulch them well, covering about six inches. If I lose any mulch during the winter rain, I replace it.
Remove Tender Bulbs and Cover Others
Prepare your tender bulbs by digging them up and drying them on newspaper in the place they will be stored for several weeks. I then cover the bulbs with dry sand.
Hardy bulbs should be planted. If you live in a cold region or you’re expecting an especially hard freeze, spread a good layer of mulch over them. I prefer to layer some newspaper first, then apply a few inches of mulch, depending on how cold it’ll get.
You can improve flowers and vegetable gardens by adding a layer of well-rotten compost a few weeks before winter.
The timing of mulching is crucial, so if you live in a cold climate, you should add mulch when the ground begins to freeze. In areas that do not freeze in the winter, you should add mulch when the temperature begins to drop.
As a result, the mulch maintains ground temperature at a constant level of freezing or cold, at least until spring heating. By doing this the soil will not undergo back-and-forth freezing and thawing, which causes it to rise, uprooting all kinds of plant life.
Mulch your plants three inches deep, tilling the soil before you apply it, and your plants will be more likely to survive the winter.
Till the Soil
Many insects and diseases rest in the soil during the winter, waiting for warmer weather to kill them. Tilling the soil can generally kill them. Allow the cold air to penetrate the bugs for two to three days before mulching.
Water your evergreens thoroughly in the fall a couple of weeks before winter arrives. Some evergreens, such as conifers, continue to release moisture through their leaves all year round, so they require an ample amount of water in the fall.
If your stakes, trellises or other supports are in poor condition, make sure the plants are securely fastened. Replace weak or rotten stakes to protect against strong winds.
You should bring your container plants indoors or under a shelter if you can. If they’re too heavy, cover their roots with burlap. You can also wrap their roots in bubble wrap if your plants are heavy. Potted plants’ roots are particularly susceptible to freezing.
Ideally, you’ll want to move the pots near a wall or a corner, so that the plants are closer together and you can use one large piece of burlap instead of multiple pieces. You can also wrap the pots with black plastic to heat them up as much as possible.
Care During the Winter
Some of these techniques can be used during cold snaps and bad storms to help keep your plants alive, if necessary, so you can take precautions ahead of time. Or, you can use them during a cold snap or storm to prevent your delicate plants from getting killed.
Plants can be destroyed by the winter wind, particularly if they are unaccustomed to intense blusters. Install windbreaks to protect plants in the winter.
Windbreaks can take the form of other plants that can withstand wind, elaborate structures, or even a simple structure made of several pieces of wood propping themselves up temporarily.
The next cold weather is going to be harsh, so if you have plants that are particularly tender and you would like to protect them, then consider putting some protection on them. I usually use burlap because it is light and easy to handle.
The trunks of tender, young trees are vulnerable. I cover them with burlap to protect their trunks during the cold months. I also cover my citrus trees with burlap to protect them during the winter.
The burlap and plastic can be used to cover small trees and shrubs; you should use a frame to prevent the burlap from touching the foliage so it doesn’t freeze to the plant. Old linens and towels have also been useful. I have also used commercially produced garden fabric.
When the snow comes in an intense storm or lasts for days, you will experience a problem with your plants. These are the cases when a dusting of snow should be perfectly fine, but an intense storm or snow that lasts for days is enough to damage them.
Make sure that you allow a little air circulation around the plants so moisture doesn’t build up. Use cloches or box frames to protect the plants.
Another thing I have used is layers of cardboard boxes, plastic water bottles, and newspaper around young tender plants. Hoophouses are good for growing crops in the winter.
The longer the snow is in contact with the foliage of larger plants, the more likely they are to suffer. Snow is also heavy, so removing it when it first falls is important to prevent breaking with the plants. My favorite tool to remove snow is a broom with a soft head.
Remember: The One Thing You Must Do
Our success at winter gardening is primarily the result of choosing plants that survive naturally where we live. It doesn’t matter how much care you provide, a tropical plant just won’t do well outdoors in Alaska.
It can be challenging for homeowners to plan their gardens in advance – but the above tips are available so you can use them to keep your plants alive this winter.