The days are growing colder, the leaves are falling, and with winter just around the corner it's time to prepare your garden for the harsh weather to come, and for the warm spring weather that follows. If your garden contains mostly native plants, then cold weather usually is not a problem. However, our last two winters, have had unusually long and hard freezes that have stressed native perennials as well as the more tender cultivars imported into our Northwest climate. In order to protect your plants from freezing weather and replenish your garden's soil for the spring bloom, here are some simple tasks to complete before winter sets in.
A LAYER OF MULCH
The simplest way to protect your plants from cold weather is to lay down a healthy layer of mulch in your garden. A 3-4 inch layer of mulch consisting of composted material or even just the leaves you have raked up from your yard will trap heat in the ground, preventing roots from freezing during cold snaps. Also, the heat created by the composting activity from the mulch will add another layer of protection from freezing weather.
Mulching your garden is the most effective way to protect your plants from freezing. It is also the most effective way to fertilize your garden with organic material that keeps your soil healthy and your plants well fed with the nutrients they require. As the winter rains drain through the composted material, nutrients are deposited deep in soil, promoting healthy root systems and preparing plants for a burst of growth in the spring.
A MULCH BLANKET
But what about plants that need heavy-duty protection to survive a northwest winter, such as tree ferns and banana trees? These imports require more protection than native plants. To protect tender, non-native plants, you can create a blanket out of burlap and leaves. Small shrubs can be encased in leaves and bound up in burlap to trap in heat and prevent frigid winds from freezing branches. Larger plants can be protected by loosely wrapping the entire trunk in burlap, and filling the burlap wrap with leaves and/or wood shavings. Again, the layer of leaves around the tree will trap in heat while blocking out cold winds.
PLANTING GROUND COVERS
Admittedly, it is getting a little late in the year to plant a ground cover in your vegetable garden. But if you hurry, planting a ground cover, such as crimson clover or vetch, is great way to organically replenish nitrogen into your vegetable garden and attract beneficial bugs. Simply grow a cover crop in your garden bed over the winter, and till it back into the ground in the spring to give next year's vegetable garden all the nutrition it needs for an abundant yield. For your best option, consult a landscaper or a nursery.
GETTING READY FOR SPRING
I personally dedicate a lot of effort to mulching my garden. I believe it is the single most important task for creating a lush, healthy garden that comes through harsh winters with little or no damage and is ready to burst with new growth and flowers as the warmer days of spring arrive. So, go ahead and put on your rain gear. Wrap up your precious tree ferns. Rake the leaves off the grass and into your flower beds. Grab your shovel and start spreading compost. Then sit back, enjoy the rain, and wait for spring.