Preparing Your Landscape for Winter – The Ukiah Daily Journal

Fall is a transitional season and that includes your garden. Take advantage of the beautiful autumn days to enjoy your garden and prepare your landscape for the winter to come.

Put fall leaves to work in your landscape by improving your soil, reducing maintenance, and creating winter homes for toads, frogs, and beneficial insects. Mow any leaves that fall on the lawn. It may take a few passes, but once the fall leaves are the size of a quarter, you can leave them on the lawn to add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

Or mow, bag and add the shredded leaves to annual flowers or vegetable gardens. Dig several inches of shredded leaves into the top 8 to 12 inches of the garden soil. The leaves will decompose over the winter, adding organic matter to the soil. Even more leaves; add them to the compost pile. Mixing this carbon-rich plant debris with green vegetables such as plant-based kitchen scraps, manure, and worm droppings makes great compost.

Use the leaves as a mulch on the soil around the base of the perennials. They suppress weeds, conserve moisture, insulate the roots, and add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. The leaves also provide winter homes and insulation for insects, toads and frogs that overwinter in leaf litter or just below the soil surface.

Let healthy perennials sit for the winter. They add winter interest to the landscape, are home to many beneficial insects, and the seeds of Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Liatris and others provide food for birds. These winged visitors add welcome color and movement to the often gray days of winter.

Take the time to remove dead, damaged and diseased stems and branches. Sanitize your tools between cuts to reduce the risk of disease spreading to healthy plants. Clean tools with a spray disinfectant or 70 percent alcohol between cuts to manage pathogens without damaging your tools.

Refresh the mulch around trees and shrubs. Maintaining a three-inch layer helps conserve moisture, insulates roots from temperature extremes, reduces competition from the lawn for water and nutrients, and improves soil as it decomposes . Remove mulch from tree trunks and shrub stems. Stacking mulch on it can lead to rotting, decline and premature death of plants.

Help your lawn recover from summer stress and prepare for winter with fall fertilization. University research has found that fall fertilization is most beneficial for home lawns. Fall fertilization encourages deep roots and denser growth that is better able to compete with weeds and tolerate disease and pests.

Always sweep up clippings and chemicals from the driveway and return them to the lawn where they belong. This simple step keeps unwanted nutrients out of streams and possibly our drinking water.

Add some springtime color by planting daffodils, grape hyacinths, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs this fall. It’s also a good time to add trees, shrubs, and perennials to the landscape. The soil is warm and the air is cool, making it less stressful for the plants to adjust to their new home. Mulch new plantings and water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of the soil are crumbly and wet. Continue to water new and existing plantings as needed until the ground freezes.

Once the garden is prepared for winter, you can put away the hoses and garden tools, take out the snow shovels, and wait for spring to arrive.

Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses ‘How to Grow Anything’ DVD series and Melinda’s Garden Moment television and radio program. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is

Leaving healthy perennials like Echinacea for the winter provides food for birds, winter interest, and homes for many beneficial insects. (Photo provided)

Terri S. Tomasini