Winter Checklist for Your Garden

As the temperatures fall outside and winter is on the horizon, it’s time to make sure your garden is ready for a frosty winter. There are of course the major tasks, like bringing your houseplants inside, but don’t forget the smaller tasks that are important for your garden’s health, too. To help, the staff from the Kemper Center for Home Gardening have made a checklist for getting your garden ready for winter.

  1. Clean up your vegetable garden beds. Pests and diseases can overwinter in dead plant material left in beds.  For vegetable gardens, it’s best to remove all plant material and compost it.  But don’t compost diseased plant material, as it may survive in the compost and be reintroduced into your garden.
  2. Plant spring bulbs. The effort required this fall will be well worth it when you are greeted next spring by the sights and scents of spring flowers. If you are having trouble with voles, consider planting bulbs they seem to avoid, including daffodils, fritillarias, and alliums.
  3. Continue watering evergreens and newly planted trees/shrubs. If the weather is dry, you should be watering trees and shrubs that are not fully established in your garden.  Evergreens should also be well watered going into winter, as they continue to photosynthesize throughout the year and are susceptible to drying out in cold, windy conditions. This can be done until the ground freezes, which is usually not until after Thanksgiving here in St. Louis.  If you have already put your hoses away for the season, use watering cans or buckets. Although this sounds like an arduous task, just remember that you are increasing the chances that your tree or shrub will survive the winter.
  4. Test your soil pH. Although it’s a bit too late to take on any large planting projects in your garden or reseed your lawn, now is a great time to get your soil pH tested.  Please refer to this brochure from the University of Missouri Extension that explains how to take a soil sample. Once you have a sample, you can quantify the pH level using an at-home testing kit, or have the soil pH tested for free at the Kemper Center. Once you know the pH, you can either add liming or acidifying agents to the soil depending on what pH level you are trying to achieve.  Click here for more information on soil pH.
  5. Clean your tools. Keeping your hand tools and small machinery clean and properly maintained will extend their lifespans. Clean off dirt and debris from shovels, trowels, pruners, and other garden tools. Oil wooden handles with linseed oil to prevent cracking.  Sharpen pruners, loppers, and spades. Drain the gasoline from small machinery such as leaf blowers and string trimmers before storing them for winter.
  6. Reduce your houseplant watering schedule. The shorter days and colder temperatures of winter mean that you can water your houseplants less frequently.  For example, if you are watering your tropical house plants once a week, you may be able to switch to every 12-14 days.  However, this is dependent on multiple factors, so monitor the soil moisture to determine when it is best to water your individual plants. You can find more detailed information on watering houseplants here.
  7. Start planning ahead. Like the fashion industry, gardeners need to be thinking multiple seasons in advance. The fall is the perfect time to decide what trees, shrubs, or perennials you would like to add to your garden.  This way you can order plants in advance instead of relying on certain items being in stock at your local nursery come spring. Look back on the growing season and consider what pests you dealt with the most, and how you can mitigate them next year. You can also plan out any major pruning projects, which should be completed in late winter for most shrubs and trees.
  8. Winterizing roses. At the Garden, we add a 1-2 foot layer of mulch around the crowns of our rose bushes after the first hard freeze. This protects the delicate canes from winter damage. If not enough mulch is applied, the graft could be damaged and the rose could come back not true to type.  This protection is especially important for roses planted in exposed sites. You can find more information on winterizing roses here.

Catherine Martin

Public Information Officer

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