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Get Your Garden Winter-Ready

7 Easy Ideas for a Fall Weekend

Winter is a gardener’s friend, providing flowers, shrubs, and trees with a well-deserved opportunity to rest and rejuvenate after a lush, showy summer. To give your garden a jumpstart on next spring, spend a sunny fall weekend planting, mulching, and watering. With these autumnal preparations, your efforts will be rewarded next spring with a healthier, more beautiful landscape.

Seed Your Lawn

In the upper Midwest, early autumn is a great time to seed your lawn, as there’s still enough time for the seeds to germinate before winter. As a first step, aerate your lawn with a core aerator, a device that removes small plugs of dirt from the ground, allowing air, nutrients and water to penetrate the soil. This also allows the grass roots to grow more deeply, resulting in a stronger, healthier lawn. Once you’ve aerated the soil, water your lawn to a depth of four to six inches and then spread the grass seed. After the seedlings have begun to sprout, water regularly and then taper off as the weather grows colder. 

Divide Your Perennials

Early autumn is also an ideal time to plant and divide hostas, peonies, and other perennials. Dig up the entire clump and then use a sharp knife to split it into halves or quarters. The smaller the division, the longer it will take for the plant to bloom again. Dig a new hole, set the plant gently in its new home, cover with soil, and water until the surrounding soil is thoroughly soaked to a depth of four to eight inches.

Plant Flowering Bulbs

Wait until late autumn to plant flowering bulbs because cool soil promotes root growth, not top growth. Visit a quality nursery and select the biggest bulbs you can find to ensure the biggest blooms. For a colorful show next spring, choose a mix of narcissus, snowdrops, tulips, and fragrant hyacinths. And be sure to find a spot with full sun. In general, the holes should be two to three times as deep as the height of the bulb. Small bulbs prefer to be two to three inches apart, while larger bulbs like to be four to six inches apart. Plant each bulb with the pointy side up and the root structure pointing down, and water until the soil is thoroughly soaked.

Create a Compost Heap

Instead of bagging your leaves, use them to create your own compost heap, which is a great way to nourish your garden and minimize your contribution to local landfills. Choose a spot in an out-of-the-way place in your garden. Build a pile approximately five feet high with layers of leaves, grass clippings, dead annuals, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells, and other compostable materials—but no meat, dairy, or grease! Add organic fertilizer, add water until all layers are thoroughly soaked, turn frequently, and let the fresh air, rain, snow, and sunshine do their work. Over time, the materials in your compost heap will begin to break down and decompose, resulting in a dark, rich, soil-like substance that you can mix into the soil in your flower beds next spring. A good compost heap is never finished, so keep adding organic materials, all year round.

Mulch Your Flower Beds

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for next spring, mulch your shrubs and flower beds in late autumn. Wait until there’s some frost on the ground, water the soil thoroughly, and then apply a layer of leaves, straw, or wood chips. This will help hold in the moisture during the winter. Come spring, as soon as the soil has warmed up, remove the material from around your plants to prevent mold growth and add it to your compost pile.

Care for Trees and Shrubs

In general, it’s best to wait until late winter to prune trees and shrubs, so you can easily see the structure of the branches and the new spring growth will quickly seal the wounds. In the meantime, if you have trees with dead branches overhanging your house, call a reputable tree care company to remove them before winter. Water trees and shrubs regularly until cooler weather arrives.

Check Your Gutters

As soon as the leaves start changing color, check your gutters and downspouts regularly to ensure they’re correctly affixed. Make sure the downspouts are draining far enough away from your foundation to prevent water from leaking into your house. Remove leaves, twigs, and other debris from gutters and downspouts and add to your compost heap. 

Like a good compost heap, a gardener's work is never finished. If winter suddenly decides to arrive early, as it often does, just kick off your boots, hang up your gardening gloves, and relax. Your garden will be ready and waiting for you next spring.

Looking for more seasonal tips on maintaining a beautiful home? Check out these five ways to create beauty and value in your neighborhood.