Here is a review of some basic gardening tips and chores as winter approaches.
Watering During Fall & Winter: Plants, especially evergreens require moisture throughout the colder months. Moisture is often provided by occasional rain or snow cover (which also provides insulation for the roots of your plants). It is a common misbelief that is unnecessary to water in winter; however, once the ground freezes it is difficult for water to percolate down to the roots. Dehydration can result from the lack of water. Deciduous trees go dormant but evergreens remain somewhat active and require some moisture for survival. Water as much as possible before the ground freezes, especially if you have new plantings and if there is a period of drought water when the ground thaws.
Anti-Desiccant Spray: Certain broad leaf evergreens such as cherry laurel, skip laurel, mountain laurel, boxwood, euonymus, holly, rhododendron, Japanese skimmia, leucothoe and aucuba can be subject to severe winter burn due to water loss from the leaves by transpiration. When the daytime temperatures start falling below 50 degrees it is time to apply an anti-desiccant spray such as wiltpruf to protect these plants. Apply when the temperatures are above freezing and there is no threat of rain or frost within 24 hours. (This tip applies to areas going into their winter season-temperatures dropping below freezing: 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.) If there is a prolonged thaw in mid-winter it may be time to re-apply anti-desiccant spray to your broad leaf evergreens, especially if there are more prolonged freezing temperatures on the way.
Pruning Ornamental Grasses: Ornamental grasses can add much interest to the winter landscape and should not be cut all the way back for winter. It is best to cut your grasses back in late March to early April in order to protect the roots from frost which could do damage. If your grasses become unsightly by the end of the fall simply prune back the plumes and leave the rest for early spring. Another trick is to wrap a bungee cord about half way up around the center and let the grasses drape over keeping them upright and in place.
Weeding: A little preventive weeding in fall can give your garden a good start to spring. Some weeds tend to multiply in the cooler temperatures and if not tended to can be a nuisance in the warmer months. On a milder day when temperatures are above freezing weeds can be removed easily and should be disposed to prevent spores/seeds from spreading elsewhere. Also decaying foliage from perennials and around plants should be removed to as a preventive to fungal infection.
Frost Heaving: In sustained below freezing temperatures followed by thaw the soil expands upwards from the ground causing plants to push upwards exposing the crown. This is known as frost heaving. Certain plants such as Heuchera (Coral Bells) and Liriope are especially prone to this type of damage. As a preventive measure apply a mulch finishing to your garden beds. If frost heaving does occur slightly tap the soil back down and brush the mulch back around the exposed top of the plant to protect it from the cold.
Ice Damage to Branches: If snow piles up on your evergreens do not immediately shake the branches for it could cause breakage and damage. Try to carefully brush the snow away removing any excess weight. If the tree or shrub is covered with ice permit nature to take its course and allow the ice to melt naturally. If your trees or shrubs do suffer any damage from winter storms it is recommended to remove any broken limbs to avoid stress and disease to the plant. This can be done when the weather allows.
Garden Tool Care: Before storing your garden tools for winter clean them thoroughly with water and gently remove any built up soil to prevent corrosion. It is recommended to oil any moving parts on your pruners and loppers and spray any wooden handles on tools such as shovels with linseed oil in order to keep them from drying and cracking. It is also a good time to re-sharpen your shears, loppers and shovels so your tools will be all ready to go when spring arrives.
In Summary: Some simple preparation can go a long way especially in areas where winters are harsh. I have found these techniques to be very worthwhile and productive over the years and they should do the same for you! As always…happy gardening!