Just Say Goodnight

A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever.
—Richard Briers

It's sad to watch the garden fading into winter, but at least we don't have to say goodbye. Spring will return, as naturally as the sun will rise tomorrow morning. All we have to do is ready the garden so that it can rest until its renewal a few months hence. Here's a list of jobs that will help you prepare for the garden's winter's nap.

  • Clean Out and Cut Back. Shoals of dead leaves and rotten stalks can harbor disease, even through the winter season. But don't cut plants back to the ground, and don't pick up every dead leaf. Leave seed heads for the winter birds, some plant stalks to protect the crowns, and others for their winter-time beauty.

  • Cover Up. Mulch is the best winter protection for your plants. Wait until the ground has frozen slightly, to ensure the plants' dormancy. If the snow falls, mulch over the snow. Some woody perennials and shrubs may benefit from soil mounded around the base. Biennials that produce a rosette of leaves on the surface of the ground (foxglove, pansies, mullein, for instance) may benefit from a box covering; other plants will do very well under a blanket of leaves, particularly oak leaves, which mat down less. Tender shrubs may need to be screened or wrapped (with burlap or something similar, not plastic.)

  • Dig In. A few hardy shrubs and perennials can still be put into the ground, especially corms, bulbs, and roots—saffron crocuses, for instance, and horseradish. Mulch as necessary.

  • Write Down. You'll find a garden log very helpful next spring, when you're trying to identify those first tentative green shoots and wondering whether you divided that artemisia last fall or should do it now. Draw a diagram of each bed, noting the plants and adding photos where possible. A little extra effort now will pay off next spring.

The herb garden values its winter's rest:
The knot and the border, and the rosemary gay
Do crave the like succour, for the dying away...
—Thomas Tusser, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry