Preparing Your Garden Bed for Winter
As the fall season begins creeping towards winter, it is time for preparing your garden bed for winter temperatures to come. Here is a list of tasks and recommendations that will help ensure your plants have a cozy winter season and wake up in the spring healthy and ready to bloom.
When it comes to preparing your garden for winter, the most important signal to be on the lookout for is the first freeze. Your goal should be these “winterizing tasks” before the first freeze comes in. The first freeze is when the outside temperatures sit at or below freezing for several hours. Each plant has a slightly different freezing threshold, so err on the side of caution and assume that 34 degrees is freezing. Unfortunately, Mother Nature never sends us an exact date for the first freeze, but if you look back over the years, it typically arrives just before Thanksgiving. Every now and again, the first freeze likes to come early, so it’s a good practice to begin checking the weather in early November.
Just as we are inclined to begin wearing sweaters and jackets to endure the colder temperatures, your plants would like the same extra layer of comfort. Adding 2-3 inches of mulch (hardwood, pine, straw) throughout your garden beds before the first freeze will not only protect your plant’s roots from freezing temperatures, it will conserve the water and vital nutrients in the soil which your plants will need to nourish themselves throughout the winter.
Your major pruning task will be for your perennial plants. Since perennials are dying back in late fall and remaining dormant until the spring, you will want to tidy them up for their winter nap. Depending on the plant, you can cut them back completely or simply prune away what is dying off. A good example of this would be giving your perennial grasses their trademark “buzz cut”. The blades of your perennial grasses will dry out like straw each winter and remain this way until the new grass emerges from within the plant come spring. This combined growth is very tricky to prune, so you will absolutely want to take care of it in the fall. Since pruning often encourages new growth, reserve any major pruning or shaping on trees and shrubs for late winter or early spring. However, don’t hesitate to prune back any broken branches right away. See our post explaining how and when to prune trees and shrubs for more information.
Once our temperatures begin dropping, it’s tempting to discontinue watering altogether. However, our soil temperatures rarely sit at freezing for very long, if at all, even during the coldest part of the winter. We would recommend continuing to water your plants when temperatures are above 40 degrees and your soil is dry to the touch.
Fertilizing is intended to supply plants with nutrients which foster growth. Most plants go dormant throughout the winter, so there is absolutely no need to fertilize them again until the spring. The only exception to this would be if you have plants that bloom and grow in the winter season.
In order to determine whether any of your landscaping plants are winter tender and require special attention during the colder season, you will need to know the plant’s hardiness or its ability to survive in various temperatures. Our country is divided into various hardiness zones and each plant is rated according to the range of hardiness zones they will be hardy in (the lower the zone, the more cold tolerant). The North Dallas area is considered to be in plant hardiness zone 8. This means that the best north Texas winter plants will have a zone 8 rating. If you have a plant rated for zones 3-7, the plant will likely not survive our heat whereas plants rated for zones 9-11 will most likely perish in our winter cold and should be treated as a winter tender plant. These winter tender plants will require special attention when our temperatures fall below 40 degrees. We would also recommend keeping a close eye on plants that are rated with Zone 8 as their lowest hardiness zone.
Winter tender plants will need to be covered during colder temperatures. You can purchase a frost blanket, use burlap, canvas or even an old sheet. Use this blanket to cover the winter tender plants until the colder temperatures have passed. If you have a winter tender tree (such as a palm tree), you would plan to wrap the trunk of the tree with the blanket. Another strategy for winter tender plants would be to keep them in pots that can be moved into the house or the garage during colder periods.
Given a bit of foresight and careful attention to the weather, preparing your garden bed for winter is easy and will give your plants a comfortable and restful winter which is just what they need to put on their glorious spring show!