The first chilly fingers of fall have begun to reach for Madison County, and with that, gardeners of all varieties are beginning to prepare their yards or plots of land for the upcoming winter by performing winterization.

Amanda Sears, Madison County Cooperative Extension agent of horticulture, explained winterizing a garden as shutting it down for the year, cleaning up debris and making sure perennials can withstand the winter's cold. While many plants need help preparing for winter, some plants, such as trees, go through the hibernation process naturally which is when one sees autumn color.

If one doesn't winterize their garden, they should, according to Mother Nature Network, noting the process can improve chances for bigger, brighter blooms in the spring.

Know your zone

First, one should know their USDA Zone to know the average annual minimum winter temperature. Madison County rests within zone 6b, according to PlantHardiness.ars.usda.gov. Warmers zones increase in number, as such, Sears explained that a plant that grows well in Florida, which is mostly zone 9, would likely not grow well in Kentucky.

If a Kentucky gardener has such a plant, it will need to be dug up and allowed to winter indoors. Plants that are marginally in Kentucky's recommended zones might survive but could struggle to survive harsh winter temperatures. On average, Madison County has its first frost between Oct. 10-15. However, Sears said this date has progressively became later in recent years. The last frost of the year is typically in May.

Clean up

A winterizing cleanup prepares soil for the upcoming spring growing season, Sears said. Annuals must be cut back or pulled up and invasive plants removed. Some plants, like strawberries, should be covered with straw for the winter for extra warmth as can mulch around the roots of other plants. And while trees and shrubs can mostly winterize without assistance, gardeners should refrain from pruning as months become cold as this can be a shock to the tree.

Most importantly, all plants and debris that could bear disease and pestilence should be removed to prevent spread into healthy plants. Diseased or infected materials should never be composted, Sears added. Neither should one expect too much action out of their compost pile, which tends to work slowly in cold weather.

Care

Some perennial plants should be divided in the fall, how often depends on the plant. One way to tell if a plant needs divided is to see if it is no longer growing well in the center and looks like a doughnut. If there is a hole in the middle, it's probably a good time to move some of the plants around, Sears said.

Fall is often when gardeners plant bulbs for spring. There is a wide variety, but all should be planted with the "pointy end up," and check on the package to see how deep in the ground it should go, Sears noted. Heartiness for bulbs and plants can nearly always be found on the packaging.

Each year one should make note of what was planted in each spot that year and plan to rotate in the next, avoiding plants in the same family.

Those caring for not just blooms but also birds should ensure dependable water source for their featured friends. Berried plants, shrubs and trees can also be planted to provide food throughout the winter," Sears said.

Neither should outdoor hardware be forgotten. Items susceptible to rust or freezing should be moved into a garage or home, such as a garden hose which is at risk of bursting.

For more information on winterizing a garden, contact the Madison County Cooperative Extension at 859-623-4072 or visit Mother Nature Network at MNN.com.

Reach Critley King at 624-6623; follow her on Twitter @critleyking.

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