Putting Your Garden to Bed

By Mark Konlock, Director of Horticulture and Lindsay Hendricks, Assistant Director of Horticulture

As many gardeners do after a long, hot and humid summer, we sit with anticipation for the first killing frost of the season. Yes, we are talking about the frost that will surely kill off the rest of the mosquito population!

But this is also the frost that will kill off most tender annual plants and signal to the rest of the plant world that it is time to get ready to go to bed for a long winter’s nap. Not the pretty picture you imagined gardening to be? Then think of it as a way to celebrate and honor the lives of all the plants in your garden. Although you may be yanking some plants out of the ground and cutting others down to mere stubs, it’s an essential part to the plant circle of life. How else would our compost piles grow? What is thrown into the compost pile in fall turns into the prized black gold that we add to our gardens in spring. This black gold nourishes the soil and the plants that grow in it. Circle of garden-life… complete!

So how do we prepare for this celebration? Here are our top tips for getting your garden ready for bed:

gourds in garden

1) To cut back or not to cut back… that is the question. Some gardeners like to cut back the foliage and spent flowers of perennials in order to have their garden tidy for the winter and not have to worry about getting into soggy planting beds in spring. Some gardeners prefer to leave the stems and flowers up for insect habitat, bird food and winter interest. The decision is up to you!

2) Whether you cut back or leave winter interest, it’s a good idea to remove diseased and insect-ridden plant material. You’ll also need to dispose of it properly to prevent problems the following year. Don’t compost this material, rather burn or bury it.

3) After the first frost, dig tuberous (tuber like a potato) tropicals. Dig up plants like dahlias, canna lilies and elephant ears and store in a heated garage or basement to reuse in your garden next year.

4) Remove any remaining annuals. Their life cycle is complete and they won’t come back in spring.

5) Mulch marginally hardy roses. These include hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras. Mulch them with two or more feet of woodchips after the ground freezes. Here at the Garden we simply pile woodchips on top of and among the canes.

6) Time to plant those bulbs! Add some spring color to your garden by planting spring-blooming bulbs. You’ll have something to dream about and monitor as the weather warms up in spring. (link to blog on planting bulbs)

You can also learn more tips on putting your garden to bed from Mark, our Director of Horticulture, by watching the videos below. Happy Garden Hibernation!