Now that fall has officially arrived, it is time to start getting your Colorado garden ready for winter’s swift approach. Because Northern Colorado’s winter weather is rarely predictable, gardening in our area presents unusual challenges. The fluctuation between cold and warm temperatures, dry wind, and snow can wreak havoc on even the toughest plants. By following these few simple guidelines, your garden will come back again once the warm rays of spring sun start to shine.
As the nights grow colder, the perennials in your yard begin to ready themselves for winter. Around the time of the first hard frost, the foliage will start to wither and die. There are two different methods to prepare your perennials for the hard winter ahead.
The first is to leave the foliage on the plant until spring, allowing the top growth to bend over and protect roots throughout the winter months. You also will be rewarded with winter interest like rose hips and cool seedheads.
The second approach is to immediately remove the dead foliage. Many perennials will experience no damage as a result, as long as you carefully spread mulch around the remaining plant. Whether you decide to remove dead foliage in the fall or wait until spring, mulch provides beneficial protection for your perennials. It protects the plant’s roots and it diminishes the effects of severe temperature changes during winter’s unpredictable stay. Mulch also helps retain moisture, helping ward off dehydration during especially dry winters. Mulches do a better job of insulating plants when space is allowed for air to circulate. Mulch that packs down to a dense mass during winter can cause mildews and molds to form. There are many different types of mulch that can be used. Local garden centers sell mulch pre-bagged and ready to spread into your garden. Shredded leaves from deciduous trees and pine boughs from discarded Christmas trees provide great winter protection. Good organic compost used as mulch is also effective and can then be used as a soil amendment in the spring. Make sure to winter water your perennials, especially if it has been a dry winter. Although dormant, plants still need minimal moisture over the winter months in order to survive.
While your perennials are preparing themselves to take a long winter nap, your annuals will begin to fade away due to the cool fall nights. Before the first frost, take cuttings of geraniums, coleus, and begonias to root for houseplants. Collect seeds of favorite plants that you would like to have in your garden again next year. Don’t save seeds from vegetables or flowers labeled as “hybrid.” Seeds from hybrid varieties produce a mixture of plant types, most of which will not be as strong a plant as the parent. Make sure to take notes or save labels of favorite annuals to remember them for next spring! After a killing frost, pull up dead annuals and clear out the dead and blackened foliage in order to prevent retaining diseases or insect eggs over the winter. Discard, in the trash, any that look diseased and throw the rest in your compost bin. Weeds often distribute seeds in the fall, which can lead to additional work and unhealthy gardens and lawns. Get in the habit of pulling weeds before it gets too late to take preventative action!
Colorado winters can be very harsh on your trees and shrubs as well. Wrap trunks of recently planted trees, especially those with a thin bark. Use a commercial crepe-type tree wrap available at local garden centers. This care prevents a condition known as sunscald, caused by a drying of the bark, and usually happens on the south or southeast side of a tree. Cells that are exposed to the warm southern sun in the day will refreeze when temperatures plunge at night. Tree wrap will help with these sudden and damaging temperature fluctuations. Just make sure to remove the tree wrap by April as it will harbor insects and diseases if left on during spring and summer. You will also need to winter water your trees and shrubs during the winter, based on how much snowfall is received.
Are you hoping to have the greenest lawn on the block next year? If so, it is very important to prepare your lawn now for the winter. Purchase a high quality winterizer at a local garden center. Although most winterizers contain the same ingredients as normal lawn food, make sure the winterizer you choose contains less nitrogen and more potassium and phosphorous, which will strengthen roots during the winter months. For even healthier lawns and better results, try aerating your turf. Aerating opens up the soil in your lawn and garden and allows for water and air to have more direct access to roots. It also permits the flow of nutrients to penetrate the soil for long-lasting results. You should consider aerating your lawn if it received high traffic during the summer, which causes soil compression. If you are going to aerate, make sure to do so before spreading winterizer.