How to Prepare Landscaping for Winter

Cleaning up our yard and landscaping is just as therapeutic for me as planting new flowers in the spring is after a long winter. I enjoy buttoning up the outdoors after a full season of summer growth. Today, I’m sharing how to prepare landscaping for winter.

old rose bud with one lone petal on a stem

We are in the Midwest, which means we have a good 5 months of cold weather in our area. Some years the weather is colder than others, but we still have to do a few things to put our outdoor plants to bed.

My winter preparation starts in late October when I begin to trim my shrubs for the last time. After that, I cut back the flowering plants that need to be tended to and move on to the mulching.

There are a lot of other things you can do, like aerate your lawn, but I leave that to my husband. I prefer to spend my time babying the plants that will greet me in the spring.

Tucking everything in for the winter is almost as fun as seeing new buds pop out in the spring. You are tidying up the beds and pruning the plants that need a trimming so that they can be healthy and vibrant in the spring when we are aching for new life.

There is something so special about doing this. You’ve spent so many hours tending to these plants and you are tired. They are tired. It’s time for everyone to have a rest.

old roses in a window flower box

What does landscaping need to survive winter?

Landscaping is usually pretty hardy and people tend to plant things that they know will do well in their local zone area.

There are a few things you can do to ensure that you will have happy plants in the spring once things start to grow.

Winter can be a very dry time if you don’t get much snow, so water your plants until things are too cold to do so anymore.

Mulch to keep the plants warm and insulated for winter and to keep the ground temperature stable. Some tender plants that are young might need to be wrapped in landscaping fabric. This isn’t usually necessary for most zones, though.

Easy ways to winterize garden beds

  • Prune back perennials to help them focus their energy on their roots so that they can survive winter. The best time to do this is when they are done flowering for the season.
  • Remove tired annuals to clean up your flower beds. Take annuals out of your flower pots and window boxes to keep them from being damaged during the winter.
  • Tend to the ground by mulching areas that need some protectiong during the cold winter. This also helps with erosion control and to help keep the ground moist.
  • Remove dead flowers and leaves to keep the area free from debris and prevent disease to take root. Rake leaves to keep them from blowing into your garden beds during winter weather.
  • Plant bulbs for next spring so that you have something popping up first thing when the ground thaws
  • Winter Watering when it is applicable to help keep the ground moist in case you experience a dry winter
old hydrangeas ready to be snipped off

Hydrangeas in Winter

Hydrangeas are easy to take care of over winter, but you have to figure out if your particular plant is an “old wood” plant or a “new wood” plant.

  • Old Wood– Your flowers grow on the old wood that held blooms last season.
  • New Wood– Your plant grows new wood each year that holds the blooms for that season only. The old wood from last year doesn’t hold blooms.

If you have an old wood plant, you will do some simple pruning right after flowering is done. If your plant is a new wood plant, you will do a more thorough pruning in late winter or early spring.

Pruning Hydrangeas

Old Wood Hydrangeas

  • Once the plant is done flowering, find the first healthy pair of buds on the stem.
  • Prune the stem back to that point

New Wood Hydrangeas

  • Cut out the old, dried up canes
  • Prune back the rest during the late winter or early spring.
  • Prune the plant to 1/3 of its size to prepare it for new blooms.

I have a panicle hydrangea (new wood) which does well in cold weather climates, so I don’t have to worry too much about it. It is fairly hardy.

I do like to clean it up before winter, though, so I trim off the old blooms and leave the rest of the pruning for late winter/early spring.

rose buds dying on the stem

Winterizing Roses

Winterizing roses is as simple as cleaning up and shaping the plant so that it will be ready to flower in the spring.

  1. In the fall, take out any dead debris from the growing season. This is the biggest part of preparing roses. Clean up the plant and remove old blooms.
  2. Mulch or put a layer of dirt over the base of the rose plant to keep the temperature stable and to retain water.
  3. In the late winter to early spring, that is when you will do your pruning.
apricot roses blooming

Pruning Roses for winter

If you are in a particularly windy location, prune the plant back to 1/3 of its size in late fall. This helps stabilize the plant so the wind won’t rock the plant out of the ground.

Otherwise, this is the best way to prune roses for winter and should be done sometime between January and March:

  • Remove dead or diseased stems from the plant. Look for weak canes and snip them off, too.
  • Shape the plant so that it grows in an orderly fashion in spring. Cut young plants (1-2 years) to 12-15 inches above the soil. For more mature plants, cut back to shape it. If you want it to keep growing, stop there. If you don’t want it to get any bigger than it already is, then prune it back by 1/3 of its size. This will allow it to grow during the growing season without growing larger than it currently is.
new peony buds about to bloom

Peonies in Winter

Peonies are a plant that tends to get white mildew on its leaves. It is good to cut the plant all the way to the ground to get off the old leaves and allow new, fresh leaves to grow.

You don’t want the white mildew from the old growth to encourage white mildew to grow on the new growth, so be sure to trim the leaves off.

brown mulch and peony stems

When to cut back peonies for winter

In the fall, when you are cleaning up your garden, cut them back to the ground. I like to leave an inch, or so, of the stems in the ground so I can see where my plants are.

Peonies won’t grow on the old stems, but rather from underneath the ground. The stems don’t serve any purpose, except that they tell you where the plant is so you can look for them next year.

How to mulch landscaping for winter

Winter mulching seems like something you’d do to keep things warm, but you actually winter mulch in colder climates to keep things frozen.

Mulching does protect the plant, but it also prevents it from coming out of dormancy during a short warm spell. The mulch keeps the sun from warming the roots enough to make it “wake up” too early, thus damaging the plant.

Having soil that constantly refreezes during the winter also encourages the ground to heave and reveal the roots below it. This isn’t good for the plant, so mulching to keep a constant temperature below the mulch is helpful in preventing this.

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