Winterize your garden to be ready for next year

When preparing her Grand Junction garden for winter, Jeanette Wicks collects seeds and stores them in airtight containers.

Among her winter garden preparations, Jeanette Wicks of Grand Junction removes her geraniums from their pots, shakes off the dirt, washes them and stores them in paper bags through the winter.

Like the people who plant them, every garden is different, a living organism with personality and heart. And, at this time of year, drooping eyelids.

Winter is coming. It’s time for gardens to sleep. And it’s time for home gardeners to tuck them in.

Because every garden is different, methods for readying them for the cold months differ as well. But certain preparations can help ensure a restful winter and anticipate a vibrant spring.

“One of the main things I do, especially for a vegetable garden, is cut plants back and turn them under,” said Grand Junction master gardener Rebecca Corbin. “That’s so you don’t have plant matter molding all winter. It makes for an easier spring.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay to turn weeds under, too. Their seeds can overwinter in the soil, according to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, and sprout as soon as the weather begins warming. Gardeners who don’t want a weedy spring should pull weeds by hand when winterizing a garden.

Right now also is a good time to build up the soil for next spring, said Larry Robinson, a co-owner of Mt. Garfield Greenhouse and Nursery.

“I like to take all composting materials, grass clippings, leaves, ground-up mulch and lay it out there in the garden, even work it into the soil,” Robinson said. “The temperature’s still warm enough to get a little decomposition.”

According to CSU Cooperative Extension, annual plants can be pulled and laid in windrows at the edge of the garden, then ground with a rotary lawn mower so that the chopped material spreads back into the garden. Then it can be turned back into the soil.

By working compost and other organic materials into the soil now, Corbin said, the typical ground heaving that happens in winter will work these materials into the soil even further.

As leaves fall, Robinson advised, spread them in a thin layer over the garden so they rot through the winter and can be turned into the soil in spring.

Winter preparations also may include spreading a thick layer of mulch around trees, bushes and perennials, Robinson said, “but not with grass clippings or leaves because those can rot and cause fungus,” he said. “The best is a barky compost that can help insulate as the temperature’s changing up and down.”

He also advised wrapping newly planted and young trees, and those with thin bark, with crepe-type tree wrap to protect them against cold. South-facing trees, especially if they’re young or newly planted, should be wrapped to protect against sunburn, he said.

Thinking ahead to spring, “now’s a good time to separate your iris bulbs and plant tulips and daffodils,” Corbin said.

She and Robinson both advised resisting the urge to prune plants.

“Especially in this warmer weather, pruning enhances growth,” Robinson said. “And anything new that grows right now will freeze. The time to prune is winter after the plant’s gone dormant, or spring.”

Beyond the basics of garden winterizing, each home gardener has particular tasks to get ready for the cold.

Jeanette Wicks of Grand Junction collects seeds and pulls up annuals. She also preserves her beloved geraniums by removing them from their pots, shaking off the dirt, washing them and storing them in paper bags on her refrigerator through winter.

“When you pull them out in spring, they look like dead little twigs and you think there’s no way they’ll grow,” she said.

“But as soon as they’re back in dirt, you get sprouts.”

She also cleans and stores her flower pots and gardening tools in autumn.

Corbin said she uses this time to update her annual garden journal, making notes on what she grew, including seed packs and plant sticks, and planning for spring.

“As a gardener,” she said, “you’re always thinking about the next year.”

For information about winterizing your garden, contact the Colorado State University Tri-River Cooperative Extension at 244-1834.


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