Skip to main content

Susquehanna Life

Garden Shed: How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

It’s time to prepare your garden for winter; where do you start?

By Erica Shaffer

The sound of lawn mowers is replaced by the rustling of raked leaves. The days and nights slide into a sweet comfort zone. The pace of harvests slows down, opening up time to prepare for autumn and winter. The garden beckons. Where do you start? 

How To Prepare Your Garden For Winter

Lawn: Apply an organic fertilizer, aerate and over seed. The organic fertilizer slowly releases nutrients to the root system. Aerating opens up space in compacted or clay soils to allow the roots to breathe. Applying grass seed when temperatures are getting cooler, with more rain arriving, causes higher germination rates. 

Trees: Apply an organic fertilizer, and be sure your mulch is not piled up around the trunk. The mulch ring around your tree should only be two inches deep. Excessive mulch causes problems for a tree, including circling roots and decreased drought tolerance. Also, consider chopping the autumn leaves and using them as mulch instead of bagging and wasting this gift from your trees. The chopped leaves are free and improve your soil structure. 

Shrubs: Apply an organic fertilizer. Be mindful of which ones you are pruning or you might cut off next year’s flower buds! Spring shrubs, including as azaleas and lilacs, already have formed flower buds by autumn. Summer flowering, such as butterfly bushes and roses, form buds as they begin growth each spring; they can be pruned without losing their flowers. 

Perennials: Perennials are flowering plants that begin each year fresh from the root system. As such, the tops die over winter, and some can harbor insect or disease issues. These should be cut to about two inches tall, in late October or early November. (Cutting them down too early may result in re-sprouting, using up precious energy the root system needs to over winter.) 

For example, dead Hosta foliage is a haven for next year’s slug population. Some perennials, including asters and coneflowers, provide seeds for birds and can be left to stand all winter. Other perennials, including Heuchera and Hellebore, have interesting evergreen foliage and are trimmed in early spring. In my garden, I am letting many more perennials stand through winter. As a result, I’m enjoying the look of the winter cycle of my garden. I do most of my cut down in early spring. 

Ornamental Grasses: These are perennials and, as such, the tops die in late autumn, freshly growing in spring from the root system. Some gardeners like the straw colored look and sound as the winter wind dances with the foliage. Other gardeners think they just look bad. They can be trimmed down, to 2 to 4 inches high, in late autumn or early spring, depending on your visual preference. Hedge trimmers make quick work of this chore. 

Don’t forget to keep the weeds pulled too! They, like you, are dreaming of spring already—setting seeds and deeper roots. Apply a layer of mulch in any bare ground areas as you clean up. Happy gardening!

Erica Shaffer is a plant geek-tree hugger who has worked at Highland Gardens, in Camp Hill, for 30 years.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Susquehanna Life's free newsletter to stay informed