University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
WINTERIZE YOUR GARDEN
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Just as you make sure your car is ready for winter this time of year, so
should you make sure your garden is ready. Cleaning up the debris in
your garden, removing dead foliage, and cutting back dead growth on
perennials are some of the ways to ready your landscape for winter.
These are all measures that not only get your garden and flower beds ready
for planting and new growth next spring, but they also prevent overwintering
pests and diseases on rotting foliage. Rake leaves from under fruit
trees, especially ones that may have been diseased. Be sure to throw
out or burn any diseased foliage. Don't put it into the compost pile.
Have you raked those fallen leaves yet? The grass is still green underneath
and can use all the light possible to prepare for winter. Removing leaves
also allows water and air to get to the living plants, preventing them from
suffocating. For this reason, leaves, especially tough ones that pack down
and rot slowly like oak leaves, do not make good mulch for perennials and
should be raked off perennial beds.
Now is still the time to plant peony roots. It's too late to divide
other perennials, but there's still time to mulch shrubs, trees, and
perennial beds with a loose organic material such as bark mulch or shredded
leaves. Do it now, and you will have one less job to worry about in the
spring. Mulches also help protect roots during winter from cold and
Don't mulch too thickly--no more than a few inches--around woody trees and
shrubs as the mulch makes a nice home for mice which chew bark. If packed
around tree trunks too thick, mulch can smother the tree and cause it to
Speaking of mice, they as well as rabbits and other animals often chew bark
of shrubs and trees during winter when they’re hungry and there is little
food around. You can spray repellents on stems of shrubs, and put tree
guards around trunks of young trees. Older trees are more resistant to
their chewing. You can buy tree guards that easily slip around trunks at
complete garden stores or online, or you can make them simply with short
sections of hardware cloth wire mesh. Just make sure they extend above
the usual snow level.
If you have heavy deer pressure in your locale, make sure to spray any
valuable shrubs or trees with repellents. Taste and smell repellents
can be purchased that will last for weeks before reapplication. If
there aren’t many deer, or there is alternative food, simply hanging human
hair or bars of soap near shrubs may suffice. If there are many deer
or they’re hungry enough, only fencing may work. Unobtrusive black mesh can
be purchased in heights from 5 to 8 feet.
Have you protected your evergreens from drying winter winds? In colder
weather the roots of evergreens are frozen and unable to take up water.
Winter winds may “desiccate” or dry them out, eventually causing them to
die. This is why leaves turn brown--from lack of water.
Protect them by putting up a screen on the windy sides, usually the north
and west. This can be as simple as erecting three wooden stakes and wrapping
burlap around them. But whatever you do, don't cover the plants
directly with plastic. It will heat up like a greenhouse on sunny days and
cook your plants. Or, you can spray evergreens with an “antidessicant”,
available from your local garden center. This provides a protective layer on
the leaves that will wear off by spring. Some years this may work or
not, depending on specific conditions and climate that year. Research
results are mixed on whether or not antidessicants are effective.
Return to Perry's Perennial