Local experts give advice on preparing a garden for winter

TIME TO GARDEN: Local gardening experts are busy with their plants now that the cold temperatures are on their way. Many gardeners believe fall is the best time of the year to plant, prune and rearrange perennials and shrubs to ensure a healthy garden in the spring. Pictured is Big Rapids Garden Club member Sandy Kailing removing the diseased leaves from her lillies. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

TIME TO GARDEN: Local gardening experts are busy with their plants now that the cold temperatures are on their way. Many gardeners believe fall is the best time of the year to plant, prune and rearrange perennials and shrubs to ensure a healthy garden in the spring. Pictured is Big Rapids Garden Club member Sandy Kailing removing the diseased leaves from her lillies. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

BIG RAPIDS — For some gardeners, the cooler temperatures mean it’s time to put the tools in the shed and say goodbye to all the beautiful plants until spring. For others, fall means it’s time to work.

Each fall, Patti Lemson, Big Rapids Garden Club president, looks forward to the first frost as a signal to begin preparing her garden for winter.

“The fall is the best time to plant perennials and shrubs because it gives the roots time to take hold of the soil,” Lemson said. “When you plant in the spring, both the roots and the top of the plant are growing so the energy is split. When you plant in the fall, all the energy of growth goes toward the roots.”

Perennials are plants that live for more than two years. Once their roots are established, they can survive winters to grow new plants each spring. A shrub is a woody plant smaller than a tree.

Because Lemson has been gardening all her life, the steps to prepare plants for cold weather come naturally. For new gardeners, she believes it’s important to study up on each plant.

“Some of my plants I leave up all winter and clean up in the spring because in the snow they are beautiful,” she said. “Others just wilt and become slimy in the spring, so those are the ones I prune or cut down.”

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

For example, Lemson will keep sedum plants up because they last through the winter and look beautiful with snow, while her peonies are cut down to the stem because when they die, they become slimy.

“You need to know about the plant to know how to prune it,” she said. “For some plants, fall is the perfect time to prune and you can cut them all the way to the ground. Others, if you cut them now, you are cutting off the bloom and you won’t get flowers in the spring.”

According to Lemson, the worst things that can happen if gardeners accidentally cut the blooms off is not seeing any flowers in the spring.

Another project Lemson does in the fall is potting and splitting her plants. Some of the plants she planted in previous years have grown so big, she needs to split them up and either replant them around the garden, place them into pots and replant them in the spring or sell any extra potted plants she no longer wants.

SPLITTING: Patti Lemson, president of the Big Rapids Garden Club, is in the process of splitting and potting her Japanese Iris's. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

SPLITTING: Patti Lemson, president of the Big Rapids Garden Club, is in the process of splitting and potting her Japanese Iris’s. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

“If you know where you want you plants after you split them, then plant them right away,” she said. “Otherwise you can pot them and wait until spring to plant them.”

According to Lemson, fall also is a good time to look at the health of your plants.

“If the plant doesn’t look healthy, it’s time to get rid of it so the disease doesn’t spread through the garden,” she said. “You need to put the diseased plants in a separate bag and toss it away. Don’t put it in a compost pile because it can still spread through the soil.”

Although the cold will kill the weeds, it won’t kill the weeds’ roots, so she also recommends pulling up all weeds before the snow hits.

Lemson also believes it’s incredibly important to water all plants that will stay up during winter.

“Plants need tons of water in the fall because any moisture they get now needs to last them until the spring,” she said. “Newly placed plants need even more than replanted ones.”

Unfortunately, annuals will not last the winter outside, so most of them are tossed into a compost pile.

GARDENING: A variety of annuals in Patti Lemson's garden. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

GARDENING: A variety of annuals in Patti Lemson’s garden. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

Annual plants only last one year. The roots, stem and leaves of the plant only last through the warm season.

Another chore when it comes to preparing the garden for winter is covering up evergreen plants.

“I choose to cover them because the deer like to eat them,” Lemson said.

Although it may seem like a lot of work, Lemson encourages gardeners to prepare their garden for winter because she thinks it’s all worth it in the spring when the flowers are in bloom.

“It’s so healthy being out in the garden and the dirt,” she said. “And the plants make everything look nicer.”

Besides preparing a garden for winter, local experts believe it’s important to prepare a lawn for winter.

Despite what people believe about the length grass should be before the first snow, it all depends on the moisture of the soil, according to Mathew Martinson, owner of M & M Lawncare and Snowplowing in Big Rapids.

“If the soil has a lot of moisture, it’s OK to keep the grass shorter,” Martinson said. “When the grass is short, it helps the roots grow deeper, which means the lawn will be healthier.”

Martinson also advises people to completely clear the lawn before snow.

“If anything is on the grass, such as leaves, it smothers the lawn,” Martinson said. “Grass needs the oxygen.”

It’s also beneficial to spray a fertilizer on the grass before the cold weather hits.

“The grass may be dead, but the roots are still alive,” Martinson said. “This way, the lawn will be healthy in the spring.”

Preparing the grass may take a little extra work, but according to Martinson, it will help make your lawn look nice in the spring.

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Posted by Katlyn Vuillemot

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