Winterize your garden now

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It was certainly another challenging year for gardening here in Yampa Valley. Between grasshoppers and the unrelenting heat of mid-summer, many garden plants never flowered and some just died.

As someone once said, "Hope springs eternal." This is especially true, I think, for gardeners.

So let's get the garden cleaned up this fall so we'll be steps ahead next spring when our garden wakes to a new growing season.

Frost-killed vegetable and annual plants should be pulled up and discarded in the compost heap. Clean up dropped leaves and limp foliage from your perennials, shrubs and trees because insects and small animals tend to make nests and stay there over the winter.

However, don't be too quick to cut all of your perennials to the ground. Some of the more unusual looking ones can give your garden character and interest through the winter. Plus, some shrubs and perennials actually benefit by leaving stems and leaves on through the winter. Butterfly Bush, Spirea and Russian Sage, for instance, use their stems to send energy to their roots and to catch blowing snow, which acts as insulation and provides moisture. The rest of your perennials should be cut down to 1 to 3 inches above the ground.

Pruning of shrubs is best left until later in the winter or early in the spring, unless you have branches that could be damaged by our fierce winter winds. The exception is rosebushes, but not climbers, that can be cut back to 1-3 feet tall. Then mound mulch or fresh topsoil or cover with cones or baskets for the winter.

Each winter, many trees in the Steamboat area are damaged by sunscald. Anything that helps snow accumulate on exposed foliage to provide protection from sun and drying winds will lessen the chance that your trees will be affected. This includes burlap, tarps or even pine branches propped against or over young evergreens. For young deciduous trees, wrap the tree trunks with hardware cloth or commercial tree wrap to protect from sun, wind and animals that chew or rub against the bark. Keeping trees well-watered into the fall is another way to reduce winter injury. A product such as Wilt-Proof can be sprayed on the needles of evergreens to help protect them from sun and wind.

Grass lawns should be aerated if your soil is compacted. Fall is the time to apply herbicides to control weed infestation and fertilizer designed for root development (slow release nitrogen or high phosphorus content).

A layer of loose mulch several inches thick around your plants will help your soil retain moisture while allowing oxygen to flow freely. It also keeps the soil temperature stable by avoiding the freeze and thaw cycle that is harmful to plants.

Finally, take time this fall to amend your plant beds by tilling or forking in a couple inches of rich compost or peatmoss into the soil. Next spring, your beds will be ready to plant as soon as the weather permits.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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