How to Protect Your Garden for the Winter

Some plants just don’t cut for cold weather, but a surprising number of perennials are quite capable of surviving a cold winter – at least with the right protection. As temperatures begin to drop, it’s important to take a few simple steps to insulate your plants and soil from the coming cold weather. Here’s how.

Insulate plants with mulch

The best way to protect plant roots from freezing temperatures is with good old-fashioned mulch . Covering the soil around the plants with mulch keeps the root system nice and warm and, as a bonus, can inhibit weed growth in winter.

You can buy bags of this material at hardware or garden supply stores, but this is not necessary: ​​you can use any large mixture of dry, decomposing (but not rotting) organic matter as mulch: think about straw, wood shavings, dead leaves … , pine needles, garden clippings, or even early compost. Some man-made materials, like rubber and plastic, can also work, especially if weed growth is your main concern.

If you’ve mulched a lot and are still nervous about your favorite perennials being kept out of the weather, Oregon’s Expansion Program has a clever plant isolation trick you “especially appreciate”:

Gather a tomato cage around it (preferably a square, folding one). Wrap the burlap around the outside of the cage and secure with elastic cords. Fill with straw or leaves.

Making special little cocoons for plants is more of a job than strategic mulching, but it is a great choice for plants that you really don’t want to see damaged.

Protect unprotected soil with compost and a blanket

Believe it or not, bare soil also needs protection from winter weather. Freeze-thaw cycles kill beneficial animals and microorganisms and can even cause erosion – not something you want to deal with in spring.

Compost is the ideal solution to this problem because it insulates the soil and provides it with many nutrients. The UK Soil Association recommends spreading a few inches directly on bare ground and empty garden plots, then covering with something durable but breathable, like an old blanket. When the weather gets warmer again, open the compost and let it breathe for a few days, then dig in the ground to distribute all the nutrients evenly.

Whether you are protecting the plants, the soil, or both, be sure to remove all insulation prior to the start of the growing season. Timing will vary depending on your location and plant or soil type, but a good rule of thumb is to start winter when spring temperatures do rise. If you are not sure when this is the case, there should be specific recommendations in your state university’s continuing education program .


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