by Teresa Odle
Winter’s on the way in most parts of the country. As the temperatures dip into the 40s or lower, it’s time to prepare perennials, bring in houseplants and do a little clean-up.
There are two main considerations in preparing perennials. One is to help them remain hardy throughout the winter; the other is simple aesthetics. If you’ve got a few perennials that live on the cold edge of your zone, cutting them back to within about 6 inches of the ground and mulching helps protect the plants from freezing winter nights. Other perennials look lovely during the winter or their seed heads feed area birds. So make your decision based on past experience, trial and error and by consulting local garden books or master gardeners. Mulching also is a personal choice — if it attracts rodents, think twice. Or only mulch the most vulnerable plants that are out in the open. Remember that microzones work in the winter to protect your plants too. For example, if your plant is right up against a south-facing wall, it’s more protected from winter cold and wind than if it’s out in the open.
Another way to keep rodents and other critters away and to cut down on insect pests come spring is to clean up around your garden beds in the fall. That’s an easy chore to put off until spring, but many insects and snails love to hide in the gooey leaves and flower heads that have fallen off. Unharvested vegetables are even more tempting. Throw all you can into your compost bin and it will do much more good for you in the spring. By the way, be sure to move your compost bin if necessary to match the winter sun’s path.
And don’t forget your houseplants. You’ll naturally want to bring indoors any that you took outside in the summer. But before you do, inspect them carefully for pests. The last thing you want to do is bring a scorpion or black widow into your family den. Clean the plants well. Insecticidal soap works best, but check to be sure it won’t hurt your plant. You can apply it by hand with a cotton ball on small plants. A soft spray with a garden hose and a soak in the sun can do the trick for plants that can’t take even soap.
Finally, put away or stack any garden furniture that you won’t be using to prevent rust damage and put away cushions if you have the storage space. But not before you sit down one final time next to your fire pit or chiminea and enjoy the cool fall evening.