Whether you want to continue growing produce into the early winter months or simply want to preserve shrubs and plants until spring, it’s important to take the proper steps to prepare your winter garden. After all, there’s much more to it than letting vines and stalks shrivel back into the soil or bringing the more delicate plants indoors. In fact, there are many more mistakes that novice gardeners make (and even some that experienced ones forget).
Timing and proper preservation techniques go a long way in keeping a winter garden healthy, and it’s easy to skip or overlook specific steps. However, to do it properly, here are 13 winter gardening mistakes to avoid.
1. Planting Late
It’s critical to follow through with any gardening plans and cover it with a high-quality plant fertilizer before the ground freezes. For one, it would make digging quite tricky. But more importantly, if you plant too late, it can mean losses come spring. For instance, perennials can be pushed out of the soil as the ground repeatedly freezes and thaws, which exposes their crowns. Other plants are not so susceptible to damage. For example, you can get away with planting shrubs and trees later. As a general rule, plan to plant any new additions six weeks before the soil freezes. Not sure when that might be? Always reference the time-tested Farmers’ Almanac.
2. Pruning Shrubs Too Early (or Late)
When you prune shrubs, it produces new growth. Any other time of year, this might be a good thing. But before winter, a tender new sprout or sprig is highly vulnerable to freezing temps. Instead of pruning too early, wait until the spring after the last frost to prune shrubs like butterfly bush and caryopteris. Only then can you prune and remove any dead branches. Ideally, your last pruning should be a late August time frame, allowing plants to harden before the first frost.
3. Not Planting Cold-Tolerant Varieties
Another winter gardening mistake to avoid is planting varieties that cannot survive the cold months. When establishing a winter garden, seek out cold-tolerant plants that offer a long harvest period, such as fall lettuce crops like the Four Seasons lettuce that can last well throughout December in regions with milder winters. For more extreme winters, plant a Winter Marvel or Brune d’Hiver.
4. Forgetting to Water New Trees
Some trees can be planted in the fall season, but you need to set a reminder to water them consistently to help them survive the winter. If freezing temperatures harden and freeze the soil, determine when there are warmer days on the horizon and water then. Since it’s recommended to put a hose away in winter, you can easily transport a water bag by a cart. On the contrary, if it snows, it will spare you the trouble. All you have to do is wait for the ground to thaw and the snow to melt through.
5. Overlooking Deadhead Self-Sowers
Gardeners need some plants to establish and grow back each year. However, certain varieties can return quite abundantly. For these types of plants that self-sow proliferously, you want to deadhead them to ensure they do not go to seed and crowd the garden. Some of these self-sowing plants are Joe Pye weed, goldenrod and black-eyed Susans.
6. Omitting a Mulch Layer
Winter mulch is extremely important for a winter garden. Adding this extra layer of mulch can protect newly established plants, protecting their root systems from frost and keeping them secured in the ground as the soil freezes and thaws over and over. Insulate your winter garden and root systems with a two-inch layer of mulch to keep it protected through the colder season.
7. Spraying for Weeds
Once the winter season temps and soil fall to 50 degrees or below, most plants will stop growing. Where many gardeners go wrong is using a chemical weed killer that is ineffective after this 50-degree mark, which makes it a complete waste of money. Instead, make sure to spray for weeds at the appropriate time, earlier in the fall season while plants are still growing.
8. Skipping Pre-Snow Clean-Up
In regions that see lots of snow, pre-snow clean-up is essential. Before the first snowfall, make sure your winter garden is tidied up. A clean winter garden minimizes a hiding place for pests and diseases that can potentially affect your plants come spring. Do it sooner rather than later or you could find yourself cleaning up your garden in the snow with frozen fingers.
9. Not Destroying Veggie Crops
Once your harvest has run its course, take time to destroy the crop. Allowing crops to sit is one winter gardening mistake that you definitely need to avoid. Otherwise, it can invite tons of problems, such as pests and diseases. This goes double for crops that are already infested. Instead, destroy the plants and dispose of them in paper bags for garbage pickup. You can attempt to compost the plants; however, the compost must reach heats high enough to destroy the pests and their eggs.
10. Forgetting the Frost Blankets
A durable frost blanket can protect your winter garden, even as the first frost arrives. A frost blanket can allow you to harvest produce well into the winter season. Many frost blanket kits go for under $30 with built-in hoops and the ability to extend several yards in length.
11. Letting Grass Grow Too Long
In regions that see tons of snow, grass needs some maintenance before the first frost. When grass is not mowed correctly, it can produce snow mold, damaging and killing the turf after the snow melts. While the grass and ground are frozen, avoid stepping on the lawn when possible. Frozen grass can break when you tread on the turf and create grass crowns.
12. Not Wrapping Bushes and Shrubs
Another winter gardening mistake? Not wrapping bushes and shrubs. Like adding a layer of mulch, you want to cover them to add an extra protective layer. Even for plants that are somewhat hardy like evergreens, they need protection from winter burn. Seek out and wrap them in a thick burlap material. Before the burlap wrap, it also helps to spray evergreens and other shrubs with an anti-transpirant to shield it from moisture.
13. Failing to Guard Trunks
Trunks can be a food resource for critters. Instead of leaving young tree trunks and shrubs unprotected from mice, rabbits and even deer, surround the bark with a tree guard and wrap shrubs with a fine mesh material. Another alternative is to attract predators like owls and hawks or place a mock raptor in a nearby tree.