After that long, long winter of 2018-19, it took forever for my perennial garden plants to break their dormancy, and now it seems like the season was way too short as my plants are fading back and yellow foliage is the predominant color in my gardens. Yes, like so many other gardeners, I do feel cheated by the short growing season, but it’s time now to begin the yearly ritual of “putting my garden to bed for the winter.”

All the perennials I propagated and never planted are in their containers and dug in up to the top of the containers in my now cleaned up raised bed vegetable garden. I’ve spread a mulch of soft pine needles, and they will be snug and safe through the winter. 

All my annual flowers have been pulled and dumped in the compost pile, and the only thing left in my large containers are the ornamental grasses that will continue to give a show of seasonal interest until they too have to be cleaned out before the dirt freezes solid.

And what about all those dozens and dozens of hostas in my perennial shade gardens? Every year at this time I get that question, “Should I cut my hostas back or just leave the dead foliage until spring?” 

I always cut back the foliage or wait for a good hard freeze to easily pull out the foliage. Doing this helps prevent the overwintering of slugs and foliar diseases that can damage the plants next season.  

For the most part, along with the hosta plants, I cut back everything to the ground that isn’t a shrub or will put on new growth next year on old stems. Another reason I like to take care of this chore now is to prevent any damage I might do stomping around in the garden next spring when the ground is moist and soft and new plants are emerging.

Because my gardens are well-established, I rarely mulch anything for winter protection. There are some plants, though, that tend to heave up above the soil level as the ground freezes and thaws over the winter and that process can damage the crown of the plant and cause plant stress or death. So those plants, like Coral Bells, I will mulch just to be on the safe side. 

Newly planted perennials will also benefit with some winter protection as they take three years to become well-established.

Normally I make sure my pines and deciduous trees go into the winter well-watered, but this fall we’ve had plenty of rain, so I think the trees will do well without any help from me. 

I’ll mulch up as many of the fallen leaves as I can to use as compost or as amendment to my garden soil. In late October to early November, we’ll apply that winterizing fertilizer on the lawns to help give the turf a good kick-start next spring.

Now all I have to do is get through the winter! Hope it’s not as bad as last year.

Donna Tatting is a Chisago County Master Gardener. 

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