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It’s time to wrap up your gardens and start your preparations for winter

When the nights close in and the temperature drops, most sensible people will wrap up. Well, the same principle applies to your garden too. At this time of year you should start preparing your garden for winter. There are plenty of things you should be doing, like protecting annual crops from frost, putting perennial gardens to bed for winter, and preparing trees and shrubs for the cold. By spending a little time this autumn sprucing up the lawn or weeding the perennial garden, you can ensure a healthier start to next year’s garden season. Here’s Ladybrook Nursery’s checklist of what you should be doing this autumn to prepare your gardens for winter.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Protect young trees from sunscald (splitting of the trunk due to extreme temperature changes in winter) by painting the trunk with an outdoor, white latex paint or wrapping the trunk with tree wrap.
  • Protect tender evergreen shrubs, such as rhododendrons, from cold winds by driving four stakes into the soil around the shrub and wrapping burlap around the plant, or applying an anti-transpirant spray to the foliage.
  • Place wooden tepees over shrubs growing under eaves where snow tends to fall off the roof.
  • In warm winter areas, plant evergreen trees and shrubs now. Only plant deciduous trees and shrubs after they have shed their leaves. Keep plants well-watered if it doesn’t rain regularly.

Plants and flowers

In warmer parts of the country you can still plant vegetables and flowers for winter and spring harvests, providing you protect them and grow them in warmer microclimates, such as on the south side of a rock wall or in a protected nook near your house or garage. These areas are often protected from cold winds and stay warmer throughout the autumn. In warmer microclimates you will still be able to plant vegetables like arugula, beets, garlic, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. The greens and root crops can be harvested through the winter, while garlic and onions will mature next summer.

In all areas, spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted six weeks before you expect the ground to freeze. Transplants of snapdragons, primroses, ornamental kale and cabbage, pansies, and violas make great additions to an autumn garden. In warmer areas they will flower all winter, whilst in colder parts they may survive the winter and flower again in spring if you cover and protect them with a thick layer of mulch.

Extending the Season

The first frost doesn’t necessarily have to signify the end of the growing season. If you’re growing cool-season crops, like lettuce and broccoli, or trying to coax the last few vegetables from warm- season crops like tomatoes, you can protect them to extend the harvest window. Drape cloth sheets or fleece over the plants, making sure they touch the ground to hold in the heat around the base of the plants. Shield choice plants with plastic buckets when frost threatens, then remove them the next morning.

There also are a number of effective products that can protect plants into autumn and even earlywinter:

  • Floating row covers

Made from lightweight polyester or polypropylene fabric, floating row covers are loosely laid over plants and anchored down with soil, stones, or sticks. They allow the sun, rain, and air to reach plants, yet protect crops when temperatures drop. They come in different thicknesses; the thinnest ones won’t protect against frost, but the heavier ones can protect plants down to around minus 2° C.

  •  Grow or poly tunnels

Grow tunnels are made from row cover fabric stretched over a metal or plastic frame. Some grow tunnels have slits allowing for natural venting so plants don’t overheat, but these don’t offer much protection against the cold. The thickest grow tunnel fabrics protect plants down to about minus 3° C.

  • Cloches

Shaped like a bell or dome, cloches are usually made of plastic or glass. They’re great for protecting individual tender plants. Some cloches are airtight, offering more frost protection, but these need to be removed during sunny days so plants don’t overheat. If you want to keep maintenance to a minimum, choose cloches that are vented on top. They won’t protect plants from freezing temperatures as well as closed cloches, but plants are less likely to be burned from excessive heat during the day.

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