Just as you make certain that your lovely home at Smith Mountain Lake is ready for the cold months to come, so your garden needs similar preparations. It is not difficult to winterize your garden area and any plants that need help to survive freezing winter temperatures, and it is well worth the effort.
First, for those of you who love the hardy plants that bloom in the early spring and grow from bulbs, plant those bulbs now before the ground freezes. Then they will appear in all their glory when it begins to warm in the spring. (Hint: plant the bottom of any bulb about 4 times deeper than the bulb is wide and water once a week till the ground freezes.)
Apply appropriate fertilizer to trees, shrubs and lawns before the end of November. The plants use the fertilizer to produce new roots for next year. You should also water any new or fragile growth until the ground freezes so that they may be able to retain some of the moisture.
Remove all dead plant and vegetable matter, especially any diseased materials that might spread into the next season. Trim your perennial plants to within a few inches of the ground to encourage new and stronger growth next year. Throw all dying annuals on the compost along with any kitchen garbage. (If you don’t have a compost started you should get a good book from the library on it, and see why it is so good for your garden.)
Late fall is also a good time to test your soil for things like pH level and nutrient content so you can add whatever is necessary to improve it. Your compost, manure from a neighbors farm, bone meal, and various other organic materials can be put on your garden to improve the health of the soil as well as next years harvest. Preparing your soil now will give it plenty of time to absorb the nutrients and make it healthier before it’s time to put in a garden again.
Several inches of mulch or compost (leaves, hay, etc.) added over the whole garden and let sit all winter will also improve the nutrient formation within the soil over the winter. When you are ready to plant, you can leave the mulch (and even add more), and then just peel it back where you want to plant your seeds/plants. (This method keeps out weeds, retains moisture and creates a haven for earth worms and other things that make healthy soil.) Or you can plow the mulch into the soil and proceed as usual.
Lastly, if you wish you can plant a colorful garden in cool weather that will last until the temperatures begin to stay in the 20’s at night. With mums, asters, pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale, pumpkins, gourds, field corn and millet and straw. So as you garden lovers can see, gardening need not be just a spring and summer affair.