5 Steps to Winterize your Garden

Late fall and winter can be a dormant season for gardeners.

But before you settle in for a well-deserved winter break, take some time to winterize your garden.

Not sure where to start?

Follow our step-by-step guide!

How to Winterize your Garden

1.  Before freezing temperatures occur, make sure the soil around your plants has plenty of residual moisture. 

If rainfall has been scarce during the fall, deeply water landscape plants every week or 10 days until the first hard freeze. 

2.  Adding fertilizer late in the season promotes new growth that can be damaged by winter weather, so don’t apply fertilizer later in the fall.

3.  Avoid pruning trees or evergreen shrubs in the fall because pruning at this time encourages new growth as well.

However, if you have trees or large shrubs with weak or dead limbs that may break and fall on the roof or eaves of a house or other structure in winter weather, cut these away in the fall.

4.  Probably the most important chore to prepare your garden for winter is mulching.

•  While not every plant needs to be protected from low winter temperatures, tender perennials or newly planted shrubs and trees can use the added layer of protection.

•  Winter mulch serves as a blanket for the plants’ root systems, helping insulate soil from temperature fluctuations. The freezing and thawing of soil can push shallow-rooted plants’ roots out of the ground and closer to the surface where cold weather can affect them more. 

•  Winter mulch can also prevent cold damage to above-ground plant parts.

5.  Once the first hard freeze has occurred, apply 2 to 4 inches of straw, pine needles, hay, compost, leaves, bark chips or other organic mulch evenly around the plants.

* But keep the material a couple of inches away from the plant so it won’t promote rot or allow small rodents that may seek cover in the mulch to gnaw on the trunk.

For some trees and shrubs, bark damage can also occur in the winter as temperatures fluctuate.

Tree bark expands in warmer weather then contracts as temperatures drop, sometimes causing bark to split. 

If you typically experience extremely cold weather with spells of warmer weather during the winter, protect young or thin-barked trees and shrubs by wrapping their trunks with a commercial trunk wrap.

*This provides insulation and also helps shade the trunks from winter sunlight on warmer days.

Extreme cold weather protection tips:

To prepare for more extreme weather, stock up on a supply of burlap, canvas or old sheets that can be used to cover less cold-hardy shrubs and plants. 

When heavy snowfall or icing is predicted, use this material to cover the plants, anchoring the cover around the base of the plant with stakes, rocks, bricks or logs so winter winds don’t blow it off.

•  Remove the cover and shake off the snow or ice once the threat has passed.

•  Snow and ice can break limbs and twigs of more fragile multi-branched trees and shrubs.

•  Give them a little help holding up under the weight by bundling the limbs together with string or twine.

It’s fine to gently shake snow from the limbs of trees and shrubs, but let ice melt on its own to avoid breakage.

The best form of winterizing is making sure the plants you choose for the landscape are able to withstand your winter weather. 

As you buy new plants, pick ones that are suited for your growing zone and locate them in the proper spot. 

Tender plants that can’t withstand lots of cold weather should be planted in protected areas or on the west and south sides of houses and other structures. 

And if, despite all your efforts, winter seems to take a toll on your landscape plants, don’t panic.  Many will rebound when spring arrives so be patient and give them time to recover before you give up on them.