Winterizing: A Nod to the Life Cycle of the Garden

"To live garden-inspired is to bring nature into the everyday. To prioritize simple joys. To use your own hands to grow, cook, arrange, comfort, and savor. To grow your own food and sense of inner knowing. To cultivate intuition and confidence in alignment with the unknowns of mother nature. To lean in to the seasons and embrace their rhythms." -- Bailey Van Tassel

My friend, Bailey, shared this recently and I felt it so deeply that I wanted to give her beautiful words a space here as well. 

For me, autumn is a time for tucking the garden in for a restful winter sleep. Unlike many, I find great joy in this part of gardening. I find it therapeutic to collect seeds, to clear and tidy my garden beds, and to tuck my perennials into their beds for a deep winter sleep. It gives me an opportunity to truly appreciate the cyclical journey I take with my garden, from germinating seeds to nurturing seedlings to cultivating flowers and herbs to harvesting them, and then to collect their seeds to begin the process once again. Winterizing my garden is a nod to the life cycle of each and every plant I grew that year. 

To make the winterizing process a bit easier on myself, I designed a Gardener's Journal, which includes a set of winterizing pages for documenting how to winterize each perennial. The 40+ page journal also includes monthly notes and tasks pages, fall bulb planting pages, dahlia inventory pages, and dotted grid pages for drawing out your garden bed plans for the new year.  

Below is a list of garden winterizing tasks:

Winterizing an Herb and Flower Garden

  1. Collect seeds. This simple act truly is a promise of next year’s garden. And it costs not a dime; just time.

  2. Remove support pieces and spray them down with a 1:2 solution of bleach:water. This will kill any lingering diseases so they don't follow us into the new growing year.

  3. Remove spent material. Annual spent plant debris should be pulled and composted. Any diseased plants should be removed and burned or trashed, including any diseased perennials.

  4. Cut back perennials. Certain perennials growing in your garden should be cut back now to prevent disease and pest problems from lingering into your new season. Sharpen your sheers, dip them in running alcohol, and cut the plants back to about 2"-3” above ground level.

    Here is a list of the perennials in my garden that I cut back to their basal foliage (usually just a few inches at the base of the plant):bee balm, mint, lemon balm, yarrow, Veronica, Columbine, Astilbe, bearded iris, sedum, peony, lavender, chive, feverfew, sweet marjoram (6" above ground), echinacea

    Some perennials should be pruned but not cut all the way back to the ground.  Here is a list of the perennials I prune, being cautious not to remove more than ⅓ of the plant): lavender, clematis, camellia, rose (more on rose care below), oregano, thyme, yarrow

    Some perennials should be left standing. Here is a list of perennials I do not cut back or prune during the fall/winter: ornamental grasses, ferns, sedum, hellebore, rosemary, wisteria, sage

  5. Prune roses.  They need special care at this time. CLICK HERE for a complete journal article on choosing and caring for roses, but here are the four primary things to remember when winterizing your rose bushes: (1) remove any foliage still hanging on from the fall, (2) completely remove any stems that show signs of damage, disease or rot, (3) cut the shrub back to ⅔ of the size (removing the outer and upper most ⅓ of the plant), and (4) always prune on an angle so the "top" of the clipped angle is on the outside of the plant. This will allow the plant to grow in a more visually pleasing rounded shape.

  6. Dig up dahlia tubers and any other sensitive bulbs, depending on the zone you live in. Cut the main stem about a foot above the ground to use as a handle. Use a pitchfork to loosen the soil around the plant, pull the tuber up by the main stem, and gently shake the dirt off. 

  7. Transplant any perennials that you wish to overwinter into large pots and relocate them to their winter abode. For me, it's my greenhouse and balcony.

  8. Plant any new shrubs or perennials that you have purchased. This gives them an ample dormant period before their first spring bloom in their new home.

  9. Now you are ready to tuck your beds in for the winter! Begin by spreading a heavy layer of compost over the garden bed, except for the area immediately surrounding any new shrubs or perennials you have just planted. Compost manure, packed with nutrients that your garden needs, is truly the perfect winter blanket. Fall is the best time to add manure to your garden, allowing plenty of time for the manure to properly break down so that it doesn’t burn your starts next spring.

  10. Next, collect fallen leaves from your property, crumble them and mix them into your top layer of compost. This technique of incorporating leaf debris not only fills your garden with FREE organic mulch, but it will actually nourish your garden next year. You see, as the leaves decompose over the next year, this green material actually improves your soil, acting as a natural, free fertilizer. Additionally, leaves will retain moisture in your soil (less irrigation needed) AND helps suppress weeds (your back will thank you!) Lastly, leaves naturally buffer the temperature of your soil, keeping it a bit warmer in the winter months, protecting your perennials and cooler in the summer months, protecting your spring seedlings. A win-win situation all the way around.
Tip: Want an easy and efficient way to create a leaf mulch? Rake them into a pile and run them over with the lawn mower a few times to chop them. Voila!!
For garden winterization work, I highly recommend the hori hori, pruner, cultivator, and the spade hand trowel from the gardening collection of Barebones.

Finally, if you’re feeling really ambitious, consider a cover or cold weather crops. Or, like me, take a couple months off to enjoy the holidays inside, create with all the flower sand herbs you've preserved over the past year, and give your garden a much-deserved winter nap. 

cedar house garden in fall fog
Image above: garden before winterizing

cedar house garden after winterizing winter bare
Image above: garden after winterizing

dahlia tubers pulled from the ground
2022 tuber dig.

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