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Tips for prepping your flower bed for winter

The Park Rapids Enterprise introduces a new column called "Cultivating Success in the Farm & Garden," written by Hubbard County U of M Extension educator Tarah Young.

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Many tender bulbs, like these gladiolus, can be dug up in the fall and put in storage.
sever180 - stock.adobe.com

Last time, I discussed four tasks to complete before winter to get your vegetable garden “ready for bed.”

Flower beds need just as much TLC, so consider doing these things to put your flower garden to bed for the winter.

Remove annuals plants

After the first killing frost, it’s time to remove annual plants from the garden.

If desired, some annual plants can be successfully saved from season to season by either digging them up or taking cuttings before frost. For instance, coleus can easily be saved from year to year by potting up entire plants and keeping them indoors over the winter, or by rooting cuttings. Other plants that can be kept with relative ease include geraniums, fuchsia, lantana, begonias and impatiens.

Dig up tender bulbs

Many tender bulbs, such as cannas, dahlias and gladiolus, can also be dug up and kept from year to year with relative ease, if they are treated properly. Wait to dig up bulbs until the top growth dies back or is killed by the first frost.

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How to dig up and store the bulbs:

  • Use a garden fork or a spade to loosen the soil around the entire plant.

  • Gently lift the bulbs from the ground, being careful not to cut or skin them in the process. Any damage can encourage the growth of pathogens, leading to rot and storage losses.

  • Clean the soil from the bulbs. Wash away any clumps of soil before allowing them to dry and cure.

  • Place the bulbs in a well-ventilated area with a constant temperature between 60 and 70 degrees and out of direct sunlight for a few days. Always remember to label all stored bulbs.

  • Once the bulbs have cured, they should be packed in moistened sphagnum peat, vermiculite, or wood shavings. A little moisture goes a long way. If the storage medium is too wet, the bulbs will likely rot. The bulbs can be placed inside plastic bags or cardboard boxes and then covered with peat or vermiculite.

Should I cut back my perennials?

Cutting back perennials is often the first task gardeners complete to get their flower beds ready for dormancy. While cutting everything to the ground may give the garden a tidy look, it does a disservice to wildlife that can make use of some plants in the winter.

Leaving perennial seed heads provides natural foraging habitat for native wildlife. In the winter months when food is scarce, gardens full of withered fruit and dried seed heads can provide birds with a reliable food source. Seed-eating songbirds, such as finches, sparrows, chickadees, juncos and jays will make use of many common garden plants.

When cleaning up the garden, prioritize removing and discarding diseased top growth, but leave healthy seed heads standing.

In the spring, all perennials left standing for the winter should be cut to the ground before new growth starts.

Should I prune my trees now?

Although it may be tempting to pull out the pruning saw and loppers after the leaves have fallen, it is almost always best to wait to prune trees and shrubs until late winter or early spring. Look out for more information during the winter on this topic.

If you have any questions about this topic or any others, please contact me at 218-732-3391.

If information about agriculture, gardening and natural resources interests you, consider signing up for the Hubbard County UMN Extension Agriculture, Gardening and Natural Resources E-newsletter at z.umn.edu/HCExtensionNewsletter.

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Tarah Young is an interim Hubbard County University of Minnesota Extension educator in agriculture, food and natural resources.

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