As the days cool off and much of the landscape beauty fades, it’s easy to forget that our gardens need preparation for the winter months. In warmer climates, this may involve only minor chores like cleaning and sharpening tools, insuring for adequate drainage, cutting back spent flowers, etc. In the north, steps should be taken to prepare the landscape for harsh winter conditions.
I’m often reminded of the old adage: “Take good care of your tools, and they will take care of you.” Metal parts of hand tools should receive a light coat of oil before winter storage. Wooden handles should be sanded lightly if weathered and can also be lightly oiled to preserve the wood.
Power tools need special care before storage: four cycle engines (most lawnmowers) should be cleaned thoroughly, blades sharpened and a fuel conditioner added to the gas tank…run the engine for a minute to distribute the conditioner. Two cycle engines (string line trimmers, chain saws, etc.) should be drained of fuel and run so all fuel is purged from the carburetor – then remove the spark plug, add a few drops of oil to the cylinder, pull the starter rope slowly a few times, replace the spark plug and store. These procedures will help you get off to a good start in the spring – consult with your mechanic or power tool supplier for more information.
If you have an irrigation system, and your winter temperatures fall below freezing for extended periods, remove all water from the system by draining (if designed with this ability) or by applying air pressure. You’ll need to rent a compressor or hire a local irrigation or landscape contractor. For more information on irrigation winterization (and other excellent irrigation info) go to: http://jessstryker.com/winter.htm
Water features should be kept clear of leaves and twigs…if you don’t use a skimmer, clean the surface daily or cover with netting. Stop feeding fish when the water temperature drops below forty five degrees. Even here in the far northern U.S., fish will hibernate safely if the pond has areas at least two feet deep…and if a hole is kept open in the ice to allow damaging gases to escape (one foot diameter for each one hundred square feet of pond surface). Many pond owners keep the pump and waterfall running throughout winter to help with aeration and to enjoy the beautiful natural ice sculptures. Hardy water plants can remain on site, but tender plants need extra care…for more info on this: http://www.ent.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1994/10-14-1994/hoh.html
Extreme, and sometimes rapid, change in temperature can cause serious damage to plant material; to protect plants from the freeze /thaw cycle, mulch perennials, trees and shrubs well. Wait until the soil has cooled, but not frozen, and apply four to six inches of clean straw, pine needles, chopped or shredded bark or compost (the coarser materials will settle to three or four inches). Leaves tend to mat and will exclude water – these are best composted first. Extend the mulch to the drip line of the plant, but keep it two to three inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs to discourage rodents from feasting on the bark.
Hybrid tea roses especially need this protection…mound the mulch eight to ten inches over the crown of the plant. Wait to prune these in the spring, when any dead or damaged canes can be identified.
In the vegetable garden, strawberries will definitely benefit from a mulch, as will other small fruit and fruit trees. After the extremely heavy snows of the winter of ’96, I changed my view about pruning raspberries – the snows flattened all the canes, so now I prune and tie up the canes in late fall (I better get busy…snow is coming soon!).
Each region has its specific winter conditions…your local county extension agent may have information which will help. You can find contact information for these offices here: http://www.reeusda.gov/1700/statepartners/usa.htm
Good luck with your winterization projects! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.