Falling temperatures don’t mean you must say farewell to your beautiful garden. You can prepare your plants for the cold season through the process of winterization.
Winterizing means improving plants’ cold resistance, thus reducing damage from winter weather. Though the task may seem daunting, you’ll be surprised how far a little extra preparation can go in helping your plants finish out the year strong.
8 Steps to Winterizing Your Garden
The following sections discuss eight crucial steps to winterizing a home garden. We’ll show you gardening tips and factors to consider when supporting your plants through cool weather.
Step 1: Determine Your USDA Hardiness Zone
Determining your area’s year-round weather trends is the first step in properly winterizing your garden. Consult the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to learn about your area’s average minimum temperatures. This information will help you understand which plant species will thrive best in your climate.
Filling your garden with zone-specific plants is a method of winterizing; plants rated for your specific zone are more likely to survive the region’s winter. You can still opt for annuals or plants outside your area’s listed hardiness zone, but they’ll need extra support to survive the winter.
When you purchase a plant from a nursery or garden shop, it’ll likely have a tag that lists its hardiness zone. However, you can easily search for the information online if you don’t see the plant’s hardiness rating on the label.
Step 2: Remove Dead Plant Debris
Set your garden up for success by cleaning up plant debris or dead annuals before winter arrives. Annual plants and many veggies only stick around for one growing season, so there’s no point in leaving them in the ground to rot. You may think leaving the dead plants is harmless, but it creates a breeding ground for pests, weeds, and fungal diseases. For this reason, giving your garden a clean slate will help it flourish once spring rolls back around.
While you’ve got your gardening tools on hand, pull up the pesky weeds plaguing your flower beds. Weeds are cold-tolerant and will spend all winter sucking the nutrients out of your garden, smothering perennials that have entered dormancy for the year. Removing weeds ahead of the winter season will help your garden grow stronger when the weather warms up.
Step 3: Bring Vulnerable Potted Plants Indoors
After cleaning up your flower beds, it’s time to bring tender plants inside for the season. Tender plants are perennials that aren’t cold-tolerant and will die after the first frost. You can help these plant varieties survive the cold by overwintering them indoors.
Some plants, such as tropical species and herbs, continue growing throughout the winter. Help them thrive by keeping them as houseplants during the cool seasons. Ensure they have sufficient light and watering, similar to what they’d receive outside.
Other perennial plants enter dormancy in the winter by ceasing to bloom and reducing energy use. If you have tender perennials in containers, you must move them inside before winter strikes. Containerized plants are much more susceptible to harsh winter winds and root freeze, especially during dormancy. Move them into an unheated shed or garage before outdoor temperatures fall below 40°F. Water them periodically to prevent the soil from drying out.
Step 4: Divide Perennial Plants
Most perennials enter winter dormancy but continue growing healthy root systems belowground. You can prevent your plants from overcrowding by dividing them. Division involves splitting sections away from a parent plant to improve its vigor and propagate new plants.
Late fall is the perfect time to divide the cold-hardy perennials in your flower bed. Divide your perennials four to six weeks before the first frost to give new divisions time to establish roots before the hard freeze.
After you’ve divided and established your perennials, put away your garden shears for the season. Pruning plants and shrubs in the fall encourages new growths that won’t have time to harden before the first frost. Even if your shrubs look a little puny, allowing them to enter dormancy and conserve energy is the best way to keep them healthy throughout winter.
Step 5: Cover Garden Beds
Like humans need winter coats to brave cold temperatures, so do plants. Frost blankets, landscape fabric, and cold frames are helpful winterization tools that keep your veggies and flower beds safe.
Protect your crops by installing row covers in your vegetable garden. Row covers are frost blankets that function as tiny greenhouses, keeping in warmth and moisture while shielding your garden from biting winter winds.
Cold frames are especially handy for protecting your garden beds. These bottomless boxes fit over raised beds, insulating them and trapping precious heat. These devices eliminate the task of rolling countless feet of landscape fabric across your garden.
Taller plants like trees and shrubs likely won’t fit under a frame or row cover. In this case, a fabric frost cover is ideal. Burlap landscape fabric is an excellent choice for young and tender fruit trees needing extra support to grow at the end of the year. Burlap is a better frost cover than plastic because it maintains warmth while allowing ventilation. Wrap burlap fabric around the plant, ensuring all vulnerable leaves and shoots are secured beneath the cover.
Step 6: Mulch Around Plants For Added Insulation
Mulching around your garden is a fantastic way to keep it nourished and insulated throughout the cool winter months. You can use various materials for mulch, including wood chips, shredded leaves, and other organic matter from around your yard.
If you spent all summer and fall cooking up a compost pile of shredded leaves and plant debris, winter is the perfect time to use this rich organic matter as mulch.
Adding a thick layer of mulch around your plants restores the garden soil from the summer heat and provides a warm blanket as temperatures drop. If you live in an area with fickle weather, this organic insulator also regulates damaging freeze/thaw cycles around plants’ delicate roots.
Step 7: Winterize Your Sprinkler System
Winterizing your in-ground sprinkler system is crucial to keeping it functional and efficient. If you fail to prepare your irrigation system for winter, the freezing temperatures could render it useless – leading to costly repairs and replacements come spring.
Here are some quick steps to winterizing your sprinkler system before the ground freezes:
- Shut off the system’s water supply and backflow preventer valves to prevent freezing water from entering the system.
- Turn off any system timers to prevent automatic watering. We suggest putting the sprinkler in “rain mode” to avoid resetting any programming you’ll want to use again in spring.
- Drain the system according to its manufacturer’s manual. There are several ways sprinklers drain, and selecting the correct one for your system is critical in preventing damage.
- Insulate external components such as backflow preventers, valves, nozzles, hoses, and exposed pipes. We suggest using freeze-resistant insulation tape or valve covers.
Read our complete guide to winterizing your sprinkler system here.
Step 8: Select Winter-Hardy Plants
Once your perennials are hunkered down for the winter, you may find your garden looking a little bleak. Luckily, you don’t have to wait until next spring to fill your outdoor space with eye-catching plants.
Beautify your winter garden with seasonal plants that don’t mind the cold. Consider adding winter interest to your landscape with plants like berries, evergreen shrubs, and cold-hardy annuals. Plant cover crops like legumes, mustard, and ornamental grasses to improve your garden’s weed resistance and soil health.
Other winter-blooming flowers to consider for your landscape:
- Snowdrop – Zones 3-8
- Hellebore – Zones 3-9
- Hardy cyclamen – Zones 5-9
- Winter pansies – Zones 6+
- Pot marigold – Zones 9+
Now that you know how to winterize your garden, you can start preparing your precious perennials for the upcoming months. Following these eight steps, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a healthy garden resistant to winter’s less-than-ideal growing conditions. Your tender plants will be safe from frigid temperatures, and you’ll have a flourishing spring garden right around the corner.