As our gardens hunker down for the winter, so do we. Gorgeous fall colors of the appropriately named burning bush, clusters of red berries on dogwoods, the subtle, hazy plumes of smoke trees — those all add visual pleasure this time of year.
These brilliant fall afternoons are most appreciated because we know they’re numbered — we’re heading into colder, overcast days. On the other hand, I appreciate the reprieve of less outside work, and time redirected to other pursuits. A change of seasons rejuvenates my enthusiasm for gardening next year.
Before hanging up our gardening tools, some winterizing needs to be done.
Divide crowded perennials and transplant hardy perennials, shrubs and trees. They have all winter to grow solid root systems and then come spring, they’ll flourish with above ground growth.
Protect that precious new generation of hibernating mason bees. Move nesting blocks into a garage or other cool place out of harm’s way, where no woodpeckers or other marauders can nab them. If you leave blocks in place, it’s best to cover them with old nylon hosiery or screen; just remember to remove it come spring. Those in the know suggest if you’ve used tube inserts, remove them carefully, enclose them tightly in a plastic bag and refrigerate them (35 to 40 degrees) over winter. Next spring, they’ll go outside again, ready to pollinate your plants.
Cut long twiggy growth on roses and other shrubs that can be whipped by winter winds. Wait to do serious pruning, until plants are completely dormant this winter.
Mulch around plants for winter protection, but not against tree or shrub trunks. That’s a convenient hideout for mice — they’d have bark to munch on as well as a great lodging space.
Time to move tubers and tender plants to the garage or other dark, cool, non-freezing spot. I clip off the top growth, dig canna tubers, and tightly pack them on top of some soil into a couple of the biggest plastic containers I have. Then I tuck in geraniums, fuchsia and other tender plants. Add plenty of soil around and over them. Water them sparingly during their stay, checking perhaps once a month. They can get water logged and die with too much water; shrivel with not enough. Too much water is most often their downfall. The trick is to keep them cool but not freezing.
Many grasses are annuals; some are perennials that don’t produce viable seeds. For those bothersome reseeding perennial types, I try to clip off most of the seeds but save the rest of the plant. I get benefits of less weeding next year, yet still enjoy their winter beauty when the landscape is mostly bare.
Tackling some gardening jobs before we’re in the dead of winter provides many benefits for next year’s productive landscape.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Mary Fran McClure is one of three columnists featured.