Prepare Your Garden for Winter to Save

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Children raking autumn leaves
Getty ImagesIf you prefer to rake your leaves rather than mulch them, be sure to do so frequently.
By Jon Lal

If you're a gardener, or even if you keep up with some minor landscaping, then you've probably spent considerable time and money over the last two seasons planting, weeding and cultivating. Now that you've made a significant investment into your yard, you'll want to protect it over the harsh winter months, which will be here soon. Follow these steps to prepare your garden for the off-season.

Take advantage of fall-friendly flowers. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can still plant during the cool season of autumn. Mums do very well in fall temperatures, as do pansies, which will bloom again in the spring. You can still get a bit of color in your yard before winter arrives.

Plant for spring. This is also an important time to add to your spring garden. Look for perennials and bulbs that bloom in the spring, such as daffodils, tulips, peonies and hyacinth. You can also plant vegetables in the fall, especially bulbs like garlic and shallots. The fruits of your labor will eventually be delicious in stews and pastas.

Maintain your perennials. Take an assessment of the perennials you currently have in your garden. Break apart flourishing plants from those that aren't doing well, and then replant in new holes. Cut back any dry stems after the first frost, and pull up any spent vines for the compost. Remove diseased plants and throw them away. You can also add chopped leaves to your perennial mulch beds to protect the plants and the soil.

Weed some more. As always, this is a good time to weed your garden. At least the weather is cooler for more comfortable work. Weeding can be a great, and frugal, way to spend time together as a family. Just make sure you reward everyone for their effort afterward with a nice meal, because it burns up a lot of energy.

Don't forget to properly store your patio furniture. Keep your outdoor tables and chairs under cover during the winter to prevent wear and tear or further damage. Store cushions in rubber bins after cleaning.

Protecting your trees. If you planted new trees this year, avoid animals gnawing at the thin trunks by surrounding them with chicken wire. You can protect trees with vulnerable, thin bark by wrapping them with paper tree wrap to avoid the bark splitting during freezing temperatures. Don't forget to keep watering trees through the fall season.

Take care of your leaves. Here's the good news. There's an alternative to the back-breaking work of raking and bagging leaves, especially if you're interested in feeding the grass on your lawn. Instead of raking, mow the leaves on your lawn into mulch. You can use your lawn mower with the grass catcher removed, or buy a specific mulching mower. Running a mower across the leaves on your lawn will shred them into very small pieces, which will quickly be absorbed by microbes. This helps your lawn stay healthy, and even keeps weeds at bay. You can gather extra leaves and clippings for mulch elsewhere in the garden, or to add to your compost. (And if you don't yet have a compost pile, consider creating one. See below for more details on how to do that.)

Even if you'd prefer to rake your leaves instead of mulching them, be sure to do so frequently. Leaves that aren't removed from your lawn (or reduced to tiny pieces) will block the sunlight and suffocate your grass.

Start or add to your compost. If you're an avid gardener, chances are you already have a compost pile. Winterize your compost by giving it a roof or tarp to protect it from the elements. A protective barrier around it will also do well to ward off the frost. Maintain a balance of compost materials, including food waste, plant trimmings and leaves. The smaller the materials, the better your pile will develop, so shred and tear your materials when you can. Don't feel like you need to rotate or turn your compost pile in the winter like you do in the warm weather. It will stay insulated this way.

With these tips, you're on your way to a healthy and protected garden during winter, which means you'll be a much happier gardener in the spring. You'll also be severely reducing your chances of experiencing unexpected costs related to your garden.

Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.
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