Getting Your Yard Ready for Winter
While this is mainly intended for Corraleños, these generalities apply to most gardens. In Corrales, whether you are in the Bosque with its large trees, and proximity to the Rio Grande, or the sand hills with low sagebrush, and higher elevation, plants have the same basic requirements.
Pruning is a priority since the less foliage a plant has to maintain during the winter, the easier it is on its roots. Now is a good time to remove excess “biomass” and support the plant’s health by eliminating the year’s growth that will die back anyway. If you have Maximillian Sunflowers, you want to cut them to ground level now. Left standing, they become difficult to deal with. Their stems get very fibrous and awkward to cut once they fall over. So prune them now. The exception to that comment is roses and lilacs. Roses don’t want to be pruned until March. Lilacs accept pruning immediately after they bloom.
You can keep our Lesser Goldfinches happy by gathering the cut stems, tying them in “wheat sheaves,” and standing them where the seed heads can be picked apart by the birds. Creating a pile of branches and other cuttings in a corner where you don’t mind an unkempt look, will provide hiding spaces for birds that are exposed to cold and predators from leafless trees.
Even though the growing season is over, plants still require water. Yes, reduced amounts, but damp soil is a protector of delicate rootlets in freezing weather. This means paying attention to soil conditions. If it has been a couple of weeks since any moisture has occurred, check by using a trowel to open a small hole to see if the soil is dry or feels slightly moist. If it is going to freeze and the soil is dry, give the yard a good soak. This will minimize freeze damage to roots.
Mulch can also protect roots. An insulating layer of straw, bark, or wood chips, helps keep soil warmer. If your plants were healthy, you might consider not raking leaves since there are some butterflies whose chrysalises are tucked in those leaves. Actually some butterflies also use leftover leaf litter for a hideaway—appearing as if by magic on warm sunny days. If, on the other hand, you had an infestation of grasshoppers or another plant predator, rake away, and dispose of the leaves where they will be “cooked” to kill all hitchhikers’ egg cases.