Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Clean It Up!
If you've got debris all over your yard, you are creating a home for pests and an overwintering spot for various diseases that can ruin your garden in the spring. Get rid of the debris and eliminate the problems before they have an opportunity to cause misery in the spring.
Make the following tips a checklist for your backyard cleanup:
- Remove weeds and leaf debris, destroying diseased/pest-ridden plant material (remove it, bag it up and toss it in the trash bin—get it as far away as you can).
- Compost the healthy material you remove (only that which is free of pests or disease).
- Remove spent annuals and/or seasonal vegetables. There's no reason to leave spent annuals in the ground; they won't come back next year. So, pull them up, root and all, and add them to your compost pile.
- Cut off the foliage of perennials a few inches above the ground. Some gardeners prefer to leave healthy perennial plants as is, because they can provide food for birds in the winter.
- Fall is a great time to get into eco-friendly gardening habits. If you've bought a lot of plants, you no doubt have a lot of black plastic pots on hand and are wondering what you can do with them. (Black plastic plant pots can’t be recycled, because the pigment in them can’t be detected by the sorting equipment at most recycling centers.) Check with your local gardening center to see if it collects black plastic plant pots for specialist recycling, because most of them that are put in recycling bins remain unsorted—only to end up in a landfill. (Home Depot and Lowe's both have garden pot recycling programs.)
Amend, Mulch and Winterize
Any material added to the soil to improve its physical properties (water retention, permeability, drainage, aeration, structure, etc.) is considered a soil amendment. The goal of any soil amendment is to provide a better environment for roots. But to be successful, the amendment must be thoroughly mixed into the soil.
When you amend your soil, always do so with natural, organic materials. They will break down slowly into a form that will benefit your plants in the spring and improve the long-term health and structure of your soil naturally. These tips are a continuation of the aforementioned checklist:
- Get a soil test. The results will tell you exactly what your soil needs by including pH assessment along with nutrient analysis of the basic elements. If you use a private lab, make sure they are certified (your local home extension office can help with that).
- Add a fresh layer of mulch. Because they break down slowly (a good thing), inorganic mulches must be replaced every year. Putting down a fresh layer will provide any evergreen foliage a protective barrier from soil-borne diseases while protecting plant roots. If you live in a colder climate, don't add mulch until after the ground freezes, which will prevent frost heave and keep the soil temperature more even throughout the winter. Your garden beds will be enriched by the soil-improving organic matter as it breaks down into your soil.
- Protect your shrubs and trees from pests. If you wait until spring to address the pest problem on your shrubs and trees, it may be too late. Once the ground is frozen, apply approximately 3" of mulch around the base of the plant. This helps insulate the soil so it stays frozen and helps prevent heaving. Keep the mulch about 12 inches from the trunk to prevent rot and discourage rodent chewing. Tender, young bark is easily damaged by mice and rabbits, so protect the trunks (especially fruit trees) with tree guards made of plastic or wire.
You are limited only by your imagination when it comes to planting in a container. People have used wheelbarrows, baskets, barrels, tires, shoes, old sinks and bathtubs, all of which have to be winterized, since many of them will freeze or crack.
Take these steps and those containers will serve you well year after year:
- Bring the containers inside or to a protected area away from extreme temperatures and wind (garage, basement, etc). For added protection, you can wrap the container in a blanket or several layers of plastic wrap. Don't add fertilizer and keep watering to a minimum during this time (don't encourage new growth).
- Remove all weeds and dead plant material and empty the soil into the garden. Plants soak up everything that's in their potting soil, including chemicals and pesticides. So experts recommend washing the chemicals from the soil, also known as leaching, and replacing it every year before planting something new.
- Rinse pots to remove large dirt clumps, and use hot water with a 10% bleach solution to kill any possible diseases or insect organisms. Scrub with a stiff brush to remove any remaining dirt, rinse and stack when dry.
- You can leave plastic pots outside, but putting them in a shed or garage is a better idea. Terra cotta and stone containers can crack when exposed to low temperatures in the winter. If you must leave them outside, turn them upside-down, which will keep them from filling with water that can freeze, expand and crack the pot. If you have pots that are too heavy to turn over, wrap them with heavy plastic.
Consider Bare-Root Plants for Next Year
Bare-root plants are dormant perennial plants, trees, or shrubs with no soil around the roots. They are available much earlier than container plants from more retail sources in the winter with a much wider selection at the best prices. They are usually refrigerated until they are shipped. Forget those pesky black pots!
Bare-roots plants are:
- typically less expensive;
- establish more quickly;
- and are available locally as well as online.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on August 19, 2020:
I wish I was there...lol.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 18, 2020:
Thanks for the great clean-up ideas. Even though I don't do winter because of my location, I appreciate all the help you offer in this article.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on August 14, 2020:
Thanks so much!
Lee A Barton from New Mexico on August 13, 2020:
Informative article! Pinned for future reference.
Danny from India on August 13, 2020:
Nice article Mike and Dorthy. I liked the Organic soil amendments listings different growing mediums.