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Preparing Your Garden For Winter: 8 Steps To Winterize

Sidney Richardson6-Minute Read
December 23, 2020

You’ve worked hard on your garden all year, and it may be tempting to call it quits as winter rolls around – but with a little extra work, you can get a jumpstart on your garden for next year and save future you some time and effort.

Winterizing your garden for the cold months is crucial for making sure your next growing season goes as well as possible – but what steps should you take to prepare your garden for winter? Read on for our tips for how to winterize your garden and prepare for the cold.

1. Clear Away Dead Plants, Weeds And Debris

The first step to winterizing any garden is to clean up. This means removing all weeds, dead leaves and any invasive, diseased or dead plants. Make sure to burn or bag and throw away weeds and invasive or diseased plants to assure they won’t be spreading throughout your garden in the upcoming growing season. By properly clearing away unwanted plants and debris, you can save yourself some of the work of cleaning and weeding next year.

2. Trim Perennial Plants

Pruning perennial plants is an important step of winterizing your garden that prevents fungi and disease from ruining your plants. Pruning can also keep plants from becoming too large and unproductive or from outgrowing their allotted space. Not all plants can or need to be pruned, however, so be sure to do your research on which plants to trim and how much to take off.

Raspberry plants, grapevines, rose bushes and fruit bushes are some common plants that benefit from being pruned in winter while they are dormant. This trimming controls the size of the plant and encourages healthy and strong growth next spring.

3. Conduct A Soil Test

Conducting a soil test is an optional step in winterizing your garden, but it can be very helpful in some cases. Soil tests are offered by many stores and garden centers and come in the form of a kit that you can use to test the pH level of your garden soil. Soil pH is measured with the regular pH scale of 1 – 14, with 1 being most acidic and 14 being most alkaline. A pH level of about 7 is considered neutral. Most plants prefer neutral soil, though some such as blueberries thrive in more acidic soil. In general, a pH of 6 to 7 will work for most plants in your garden.

Using a soil test will tell you what the pH of your soil is currently as well as what nutrients may be missing and how to fix that. Like we said, a pH test is not always necessary, but it can be very helpful if your garden has had a seemingly “bad” year and you’d like to check on the health of your soil.

4. Replace Or Add To Your Soil And Mulch

Adding mulch to your garden is one of the best ways to improve your soil quality. Mulch protects and nourishes your garden as it decomposes, and it can sometimes make your garden look nicer too! Mulch comes in many forms, ranging from wood chips and leaves to animal manure.

Typically, mulching is done during the spring and summer to feed our garden soil and keep it moist, as well as deter weeds from growing. If you live in a cold climate, however, winter mulching can also be very useful. By covering your soil in a layer of mulch, you can shield the ground from sunlight and lock in moisture, which will help keep your plants dormant and healthy. Harsh winter weather can be extremely harmful to plants that have new growth too soon in the year, so keeping your plants dormant until warmer weather is usually your best bet.

Any organic insulating material will work well as a winter mulch for your garden. Straw, regular mulch, leaves, or even just a thick layer of snow can protect your garden from the sun and keep your plants from growing too early in the year.

5. Consider Composting

Composting is a great way to improve the health of your soil and plants while also eliminating waste in your home. By composting, you can create a natural fertilizer from things you would otherwise discard and use it to improve the health and quality of your garden. Composting is a year-round activity, but if you want to get started ahead of the growing season, it can be a great step in your winterization routine to improve your garden for next year.

When starting a compost pile, your goal is to create broken down organic material that will be beneficial to your soil when added. Too many “green” materials such as fresh plant waste or thrown out vegetables will just create a smelly mess, but too many “brown” materials such as dead leaves won’t do much for you either. Typically, you want to make sure you have a good mix of “green” and “brown” materials in your new compost pile. There is no perfect ratio of green to brown that works for everyone, but a general rule of thumb is that if your pile starts to smell, you need to add more brown – which can be anything from wood chips to newspaper.

Once you have your compost pile started, you may want to put a roof of some kind or a tarp over it to make sure it stays warm and protected from the elements during the chilly winter weather. If all goes well, when growing season comes around next year you will have some “finished” compost ready to go in advance!

6. Cover Your Garden Beds, Flowers, And Shrubs

Vegetable gardens won’t need much attention as the chilly winter weather rolls in, but your flowers and shrubs will need to be covered up. Protecting your flowers and shrubs in winter helps lock in heat and moisture while also warding off frost. You can cover them with tarps, plastic bags or even bed sheets. This is an essential part of the winterization process because many plants are damaged or even killed by the bitter cold of winter weather. Making sure that your flowers and shrubs make it to spring is a must if you want to see your garden thrive during next year’s growing season.

7. Prepare Seeds And Bulbs For Spring

As it starts getting colder, you should remove tender bulbs such as dahlias and gladioluses from your garden and bring them inside. Bulbs like these are best stored in breathable containers and kept in areas that are dry and unheated, but not freezing. Garages and basements are popular storage choices. Seeds for next year should also be stored in a cool, dry place. Many gardeners choose to keep their seeds in envelopes or jars, but what you decide to use is totally up to you, as long as it’s dry. Once the weather warms up and the ground unfreezes, your bulbs and seeds will be all ready to go again.

Some bulbs, however, don’t need to be stored. Flowers like daffodils and tulips have hardy bulbs that can survive in the frozen ground during winter and will sprout right back up in the spring. For these plants, you don’t need to dig anything while you’re winterizing – and in fact, you can plant these flowers even during cold weather as long as you can get them into the ground.

8. Perform Additional Garden Maintenance

To finish winterizing your garden, make sure you’ve done everything that you want to (and can) have done before spring next year. Every garden is different, so winterizing your garden might look a lot different than what your neighbor is doing. As long as you’re working toward the goal of a smoother transition to next year’s growing season, you’re doing it right.

While it isn’t strictly necessary, there are many other improvements you can finish during late fall and early winter to get ahead on next year in addition to your winterization work, too. Consider fortifying your garden beds or boxes if they’re worn down or broken, and if you’re going to be planting more in spring, consider adding new boxes and beds, too. You can also use this time to sharpen or buy new garden tools if needed. In general, just do whatever you need to get done and save yourself some time later!

The Bottom Line

Winterizing your garden is an essential step to make your next growing season a huge success. While it may not be for everyone, you can save yourself a lot of time in the spring if you put a little effort into winterizing now.

For more tips on how to make the most of your home, inside and out, check out our Homeowner Tips on the Rocket Homes® Blog.

Sidney Richardson

Sidney Richardson is a professional writer for Rocket Companies in Detroit, Michigan who specializes in real estate, homeownership and personal finance content. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in advertising from Oakland University.