Now that cold weather has finally arrived to end the growing season for most garden plants, you might think that there is nothing left to do in the outdoor garden. But, there’s now some cleanup to be done, preparations for next year, and perhaps some rearranging of your “garden furniture”.
Garden Clean Up. The hard freezes on Monday and Tuesday have left many perennials and annuals a wilted mass of stems and leaves. Time to clean up the garden, and the frozen vegetation can make a good addition to the compost pile. Chop them up if you can, and then mix in shredded leaves, and in no time (or at least in a year) you will have rich compost to add to any planting project.
This is also the perfect time to refresh the layer of mulch around your perennials and shrubs. Maybe you have too many leaves for the compost heap; run your mower repeatedly over the leaves to chop them up, and use them to cover bare ground or top off mulch in your flower beds or garden.
As the mulch layer of leaves (or other once living things like tree trimmings, bark products or pine needles) decomposes, it enriches the soil below. Because it continuously breaks down, it needs to be periodically refreshed to keep doing its job of weed suppression, water conservation, and insulation from temperature extremes. The thickness should be maintained at no less than 2.5 inches, and keep the material away from direct contact with the base of shrubs and trees. Instead, taper the thickness so the center is open like a donut.
Don’t get in a hurry to prune woody trees, shrubs, and fruit trees. Late December through February is the optimum time.
Holiday Plants. Tis the season for poinsettias and other holiday plants. These days, thanks to plant breeders, there are more varieties of poinsettias than ever, and given proper care, they can last long after the holiday season. To get the most out of poinsettias, chose ones with bright yellow, but mostly closed flowers in the center of the colorful bracts. The leaves should be a healthy dark green color. Don’t let it get cold on the way home (maybe place in a large bag to keep cold air off until you get in the car, and get it home as soon as possible).
Place your plants in a well-lit location, but away from cold windows, hot fireplaces, or drafts from a vent. Pots wrapped in decorative foil can hold water, which can cause roots to begin to rot, shortening the life of your plant. Water only when the soil feels dry (but don’t let it get so dry it wilts). Remove decorative foil when watering, let it drain, and then replace the foil. There is no need to fertilize it at this time of year.
Examine Your Landscape. Wintertime is an ideal time for planting hardy trees and shrubs. And it is also a good time to examine your landscape, for at this time of year, what you see are the “bones” of the landscape. Overgrown shrubs that are crowding one another, hiding windows, blocking entrance ways, and barren at the base may be good candidates for removal, to be replaced with more appropriate plantings. During this dormant season, younger shrubs and small sapling trees can be dug and moved most successfully, provided sufficient roots are maintained during the process.
Prepare Soil for Spring Planting. This is also a good time to get your vegetable and annual flower garden sites ready for spring planting. Loosen compacted soil, incorporate lots of compost, and cover with a mulch of leaves to keep weeds from taking over. By doing this now, you will avoid the problem that often happens during spring planting, which is frequent rains keeping the soil too wet to cultivate, thus delaying spring planting and perhaps missing ideal planting windows of time.
The isles between rows are an ideal place to put excess leaves, creating an all-weather walkway and reducing soil compaction. By the end of next year, the leaves will have turned into rich compost.
Prepare gas-powered engines for winter. The owner’s manual is the best guide to winterizing a lawn mower, tiller, garden tractor or other powered equipment. The main steps generally include draining the fuel tank and the engine of fuel — or using a fuel stabilizing additive, which allows you to leave fuel in the tank over winter; draining and changing the oil; cleaning and sharpening, adjusting and lubricating the various parts as needed; and replacing or cleaning the air filter.
Remove the sparkplug and place a teaspoon of clean oil in the cylinder and turn the engine over with the starter. This coats the cylinder walls and valves and protects against rust. You can put the old sparkplug back or buy a new one and put it in. Batteries should be cleaned off, especially the posts. A little preventative maintenance now will help prevent early spring visits to the repair shop.
Drain and store garden hoses and watering equipment in a readily accessible location. The lawn and other plants may need water during a prolonged dry spell.
Take Care of Feathered Friends. Remember to provide food and water for birds this winter. If you put out a variety of seeds, like sunflower, thistle, safflower, and millet, plus suet, you will draw a large diversity of birds. Once you begin putting out bird food, continue feeding them through the springtime.