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Prep the Garden for Winter for an Easy Spring

Green pine trees grow in a Christmas tree farm.
Bring in ornamentals, tidy shrubs and prep soil to keep your garden healthy through winter.

It’s early December and frost is no stranger to the landscape.  By now, ornamental containers should be stored in unheated structures or relocated to protected niches.  Exposed soil in the vegetable garden has been covered with an earlier sown green cover crop or leafy debris.  At Maymont, leaf raking is finally coming to an end. However, before the rakes and tarps are put away, the leaves nestled in shrubs and small evergreen trees are removed.  This is done so the leaves do not catch additional snow and add more weight to the potentially snow- or ice-ladened branches. 

A leafy green shrub planted next to a red brick house
Clear out fallen leaves and debris from your shrubs and evergreens, and inspect the branches. 

While working in the shrubs and small trees, inspect the branches for small brown bumps - they could be overwintering scale insects.  January is the perfect time to control scale insects by applying horticulture oil per the instructions on the label, but remember to choose a day that is over 50 degrees.  This tried-and-true organic method will smother the insects and many insect eggs along the stems without damaging the dormant tree or shrub. As an added protection for tender shrubs, consider wrapping them in reemay fabric to protect against the winter wind and browsing deer - I am doing this to my gardenia shrub.  

A shrub is wrapped in white  reemay fabric to protect it from cold temperatures and insects
Wrap delicate plants in reemay fabric to protect from wind and deer.

I enjoy collecting seeds from the annual bedding plants I know are not hybrids, such as marigolds and 4 O’clocks.  Below is a bucket of 4 O’clock seeds that I will store in an envelope in the produce bin of my refrigerator.  I will sow them next spring or share them with friends over the winter. 

A metal bucket in a garden bed holds hundreds of dark seeds.
You can collect seeds to plant in spring or share with friends.

The garden hoses have been drained and stored in the shed.  One winter chore will be to inspect the male and female ends for wear and replace those that are worn. In addition to the hoses, take time to inspect all gardening tools. Clean them thoroughly of soil, then wipe down the metal with a thin coat of oil.  Finally, sand the handles where needed to make them safer to use.  If not already done, take the time to store all liquid fertilizers in spaces that won’t freeze, such as a crawl space or attached garage.  All dry fertilizer needs to be stored in airtight containers to keep the moisture out.  

Enjoy a stroll outside and consider the winter landscape and garden.  Are there enough evergreen plants to provide winter interest? Are there plants providing seeds or berries for the birds?  Are there plenty of winter greens to provide harvest through the season? If not, make a note to add the missing elements either now or next year.  Don’t forget to prune that random branch which continually rubs against the house exterior on windy days. 

The houseplants moved indoors last month are adjusting to the inside environment.  The indoor air is dry so monitor the soil moisture regularly. I am that plant geek who has a humidifier to increase the air quality within the house for my family, and my plants. Early December is the time to take the Amarylllis bulb out of the cool dark place it was stored in 2 months ago.  Replant the bulb, water it well, place it in a sunny place and wait for new sprouts before watering it again, then do so regularly as it blooms.

Happy Holidays and Stay Safe!
-Peggy Singlemann