Tips to winterize your garden in the Midwest

Tips to winterize your garden in the Midwest

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Cool temperatures, a frost or two and leaves fallen from the trees are signals it's time to put the garden to bed for winter. Here are some tips to ensure your landscape survives the cold weather.

If you haven't protected your tea roses, do so now in the upper Midwest. Usually, this job is completed by mid-October in Minnesota, but should be done no later than early November, advises Jim Beardsley, a member of the Minnesota Rose Society.

In the lower Midwest, this job is usually performed around Thanksgiving. Once hybrid tea roses have dropped their leaves, apply shredded bark, topsoil, chopped leaves or other organic material about 12-inches deep around the base to protect from freezing. Usually, shrub roses don't need this protection.

Protect newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials with a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded bark, chopped leaves or other organic matter. Make sure the ground is frozen before adding the mulch. If the ground is still warm, the mulch will help it retain heat, which may encourage the plant to develop top growth. This growth will be too tender for winter temperatures and could be severely damaged or killed.

If the ground isn't frozen, it's not too late to plant spring bulbs, says Melinda Myers, a noted horticulturist based in Milwaukee, Wis. Also, if you can still dig in the soil, you can plant trees and shrubs that most likely will be on deep discount at local garden centers. Make sure to water new trees and shrubs until the ground freezes.

The temptation in the fall is to cut back perennials and shrubs, which isn't a good idea. Pruning spring-blooming shrubs at this time removes next year's flowers. Do not cut back lavender, bluebeard (Caryopteris), Russian sage (Perovskia), beautyberry (Callicarpa) and mums. In the Midwest, USDA Zone 5 is the northern range for most of these plants and leaving them upright until spring helps them survive the winter.

If you have had a disease or insect infestation in the garden, cut back those perennials. Myers recommends removing any fallen leaves, branches or fruit from the ground where perennials and shrubs were infested. By eliminating infested debris, you reduce the chance of recurrence.

Cut off the leaves and stems of plants that have been killed by frost, such as hosta, perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moshceutos), iris, peonies and other plants that look bad. But allow some perennials to stay upright, such as coneflower, black-eyed Susan and several of the salvias, to serve as a food source for finches and other birds. Robins like to eat the colorful berries on viburnums and other shrubs in winter. Roses, too, provide winter color with the orange-red seed heads, called hips.

Be sure to move ceramic, terra cotta and thin plastic planters and pots to a garage, enclosed porch or basement to prevent them from the elements. These containers will break or shatter with the freezing and thawing of winter if left outdoors.

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis, where she manages perennials and woody plants for a large, independent garden center. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications, including The American Gardener and Garden Gate. Sharp also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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