As summer fades into fall and the last fruits and vegetables have been harvested, it is time to prepare your garden for winter. Follow these easy steps to get your prized plants through the coldest season, so you can hit the ground running in spring.

Preparing a garden for winter

Start by evaluating the plant materials that are left in your garden space. Plants that had disease or pest problems should never be put in the home compost pile. It’s important to remove diseased plants from the area to lower the chances of next year’s plants being affected. Remove questionable foliage and dispose of it in the trash.

The foliage from plants that were healthy, as well as fallen fruits or unwanted vegetables, can be placed in the compost pile. This is also a good time to trim faded foliage or flowers from perennials. Rake up fallen leaves as well before they smother your grass or groundcovers.

Leave the foliage of some plants, such as ornamental grasses or red-twigged dogwoods, standing for winter interest.

Water evergreens

Evergreens have a tendency to dry out in the cold winter wind which results in wind-burned, brown needles in the spring. Give your evergreens a deep, long drink before the ground freezes. Evergreens planted in particularly windy areas can be sprayed with anti-desiccants or you can set up a burlap screen to shield the plant from the wind.

Mulching for winter

After your area has experienced consistently freezing temperatures at night, it’s time to apply the winter mulch. Mulch around evergreens, annuals and any trees that were planted in the last year. Mulch can be straw, pine needles, wood chips or chopped leaves. About 2-4 inches provides adequate protection. Roses may need a little extra mulch in colder areas. Preparing your roses for winter will ensure large, healthy blooms for next year.

Bring in terra cotta or ceramic pots so they don’t fill with water and crack over the winter. If desired, you can clean your pots with a diluted bleach solution which will sterilize them for the next use. Bring in garden hoses, sprinklers and sprayers as well. This is also a good time to check your tools and give them a tune-up if necessary.

Protecting trees from rabbits

Rabbits often feast on the tender bark of young trees and shrubs over the winter. These destructive critters will also nip off small twigs at a 45-degree angle. Their favorite trees and shrubs to munch on are blueberries, serviceberries, viburnums, quince and many varieties of fruit trees. Protect trees by wrapping the trunk in wire mesh or hardware cloth. A hardware cloth cage that encircles a small shrub will protect it, too.

You may want to spread the work of preparing your garden for winter over several weekends so it’s easier to tackle. Although it may require some time and hard work to get everything in order, your gardens will be ready to go in the spring. After getting your garden “put to bed” for the winter, the next step is to relax and wait for those seed catalogs to start arriving in January and February.