You Have Fall Gardening Questions, We Have Answers

Taking some time during the next several weeks to properly put your landscape, lawn and garden to bed for winter is the best way to ensure a great start to spring. To help you, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions we get from you—our customers—this time of year.

How do I prepare my roses for winter?

Surround rose with chicken wire and fill with leaves
Surround rose with chicken wire and fill with 8-12″ of loose mulch and leaf clippings
More specifically, we’re asked about fall pruning and winter protection. Simply put, we’ve found that it’s best to wait until spring to prune roses. With our tough winters you can expect to see some cane dieback, and the longer the canes the more chance you’ll have live canes and buds come March.

As for winter protection, grafted roses, for example hybrid tea and floribunda, need protection while hardier “own root” shrub types, such as Knock-Out® roses, don’t. Here’s how to protect your grafted roses: Wait until after the ground begins to freeze (at least until December) before mulching your roses. Mulching too early can cause the stems and crowns to rot. The Growing Place Garden Mix combined with finely chopped leaves makes excellent rose mulch. This mulch insulates rose plants from extremes in temperature, yet is loose enough to allow some air circulation to keep the stems and crown from rotting. We recommend loosely mounding up your mulch about 8 to 12 inches. Evergreen boughs make terrific mulch that also keeps the rabbits away. It’s important to not use Styrofoam rose cones as they retain excessive moisture and heat, creating a perfect environment for fungus and rot. To protect roses from gnawing rabbits, you’ll want to surround them with cylinders of chicken wire. For grafted roses fill the wire cylinders with loose mulch and leaf clippings. In spring when temperatures start to rise above freezing, remove the mulch from around the roses. If rabbits frequent your gardens, you can leave the chicken wire up as protection from those enthusiastic nibblers.

Is this the right time to prune trees and shrubs?
The best time to prune trees and shrubs is after all the leaves have fallen and they are dormant. Once they are dormant it’s easy to see the architecture of your trees and shrubs. Some plants may be pruned at this time, but take a moment to think about when they bloom. Most spring flowering trees and shrubs have already formed their flower buds for the next spring. These include viburnum, redbud, lilac, fothergilla, and crabapple. If you prune these plants now, you may cut off the flower buds and have less of a spring show. As a rule, it’s best to prune flowering trees and shrubs right after they bloom. However, crossing, dead, and diseased branches should be removed as soon as you spot them to prevent the problem from getting worse. December is the perfect time to remove those branches as well as removing water sprouts. Water sprouts are common especially on crabapples and other fruiting trees. They are long, vertical, straight shoots that have grown in one season, usually along main branches. These branches tend to break easily and do not usually flower. You may also prune suckers or shoots that form at the base of the tree. Pruning water sprouts and suckers will open up the tree for better air circulation and gives you the opportunity to shape the plant.

How do I prepare my edible garden for winter?
After the first killing frost, remove and compost all disease-free plant material. Incorporate 2”-3” of organic matter or leave it on top for the earthworms to work and turn it under next spring. Working the soil amendments into garden beds now will allow you to get into the garden earlier in the spring.

What can I do with all the leaves in my yard?
Fallen tree leaves makes great garden mulch. Use your mower or a shredder to chop leaves up to the size of your thumb nail or smaller. Use leaf mulch to insulate roses, add it to your compost pile, use it as garden mulch in landscape beds, incorporate into edible garden beds and spread thinly on the lawn to decompose over the winter.

White tubing around tree trunk

White plastic corrugated tubing around tree trunk

Shrub covered with chicken wire

Shrub covered with chicken wire

How should I protect trees and shrubs from winter and animal damage?
Perhaps the most important measure you can take to avoid winter damage is to make sure trees and shrubs, especially those planted in the last two years, are well hydrated going into winter. Although lately we’ve had a lot of rain, if we experience another dry period before the ground freezes it’s recommended you water your landscape well at least one more time.

Thin barked trees such as maples benefit from trunk protection, especially when young, to keep critters away and protect from sun damage. You could use a piece of white plastic corrugated tubing, slit lengthwise to surround tree trunks. Do not use black tubing as black heats up in the sun and can excessively warm the trunk, causing the bark cells to expand and burst. Remove tree trunk protection in spring once buds begin to swell.

Tree protection is also important for fruit trees such as apples, cherries and pears, and crabapples. Rabbits are fond of their bark and may nibble or even girdle the trunk. Young shrubs are also tempting for rabbits especially fothergilla, burning bush, viburnum, roses and barberries. A cylinder of chicken wire, graduated wire fencing or netting keeps the critters away. You may also try granular repellants or sprays, but you’ll need to reapply the product after rain or snowfall.

For recommendations concerning winter protection for evergreen plants refer to the Fall Garden Projects for a Head Start in Spring article.

Should I cut back my perennials for the winter?
Some perennial plants benefit from being cut back in late fall, and others are best left to late winter or spring for practical and aesthetic reasons. With some exceptions it’s best to wait until late winter or early spring to cut back perennials. Exceptions include those plants prone to powdery mildew such as herbaceous peony, monarda and tall phlox, and plants that aggressively reseed, such as sweet autumn clematis. Perennials with powdery mildew should be cut back now but don’t put the diseased foliage in your compost pile, rather you should burn it or bag it and tag it for municipal collection.

Several plants survive better if left unpruned. Butterfly bush, asters, foxglove and mums in particular benefit from foliage left over the winter to insulate the crown of the plants. Some plants such as Russian sage, caryopteris and fallopia will die if cut back in fall.

If left unpruned through the winter months some perennial plants provide cover and food for birds as well as attractive color, texture and movement. The winter landscape is enhanced by the graceful plumes of ornamental grasses, the rich oranges, reds and browns of rose hips and the warm glow of dried hydrangea blossoms through fresh fallen snow.

Can I leave perennials outside in containers for the winter?
If you planted perennials outdoors in decorative containers, due to the severity of our winters, we don’t recommend you leave those containers outdoors for the winter. Here are a couple of options: Without delay remove perennials from containers and transplant them in your garden. Transplanting now should give plants a chance to get established before winter. Make sure you continue to water them as needed until the ground freezes. The second option is to bring containers into an unheated garage for the winter where they’ll go dormant but be protected from deep freezes.

Did we miss something? Stop in or give us a call. Your questions are always welcome by our knowledgeable staff.

Aurora Location

2000 Montgomery Road,

Aurora, IL 60504

Phone. 630-820-8088

Naperville Location

25w471 Plank Road,

Naperville, IL 60563

Phone. 630-355-4000

Spring Hours

 Monday-Friday: 9:00am-7:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am-5:00pm
Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm 


Growing for the future with
right plants in right places.