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"Winterizing the Garden – Part One," by the Whistling Gardener

This “to-do” list contains lots of chores to accomplish before old man winter sets in. Get as many done as you can and then relax, stoke up the fire, eat some more turkey and start dreaming about next spring.
Assisting a customer at the nursery. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Just when you thought you were through with yard work for the season, some wise-acre nursery professional comes along and tells you to “Winterize your yard!”

“Okay,” you say, How do I winterize my yard?”  

Big mistake!  Never use open-ended questions with nursery professionals, unless of course you have nothing but time and money. Two hours later you stand at the cash register with an arsenal of chemicals, several yards of mulch, bags of lime and fertilizer, insulated gloves, cushioned kneepads and a leaf rake that expands or contracts to fit almost any space imaginable. 

Good grief,” you say to yourself, “Why didn't I buy a condo?”  

Ah, but then you recall the sights and smells of the most recently past season and it comes back to you why you came to the garden center in the first place…  you enjoy gardening, it’s relaxing and rewarding - it’s therapeutic. 

By now you are so grateful that there are still people that pursue horticulture as a profession that you give the nursery professional a $10.00 tip and head home to winterize the yard.

Okay, so maybe I am dreaming or simply recovering from a post-Thanksgiving tryptophanic stupor, but the above scenario does demonstrate how passionate we can get about gardening. We want to do the right thing at the right time. 

This to-do” list contains lots of chores to accomplish before old man winter sets in. Get as many done as you can and then relax, stoke up the fire, eat some more turkey and start dreaming about next spring.

LAWNS:  This is probably the most critical time to fertilize and the good news is that it won’t make the lawn grow any faster. It will keep your lawn green all winter and into the spring. Use a slow-release organic fertilizer for best results and apply some lime while you are at it.  

FRUIT TREES:  Sanitation is the most important consideration for fruit and flowering tree health. Clean up all the leaves and dispose of them properly. Spray stone fruits, such as cherries, plums, peaches and apricots, with a copper spray. For pears and apples, use a sulfur spray. Both of these products are made from natural minerals and are generally recognized as safe. For insects that might be overwintering on the trees, spray a horticultural oil on the branches to suffocate the eggs or critters. By combining copper or sulfur with the oil, you have the best of both worlds. Do this now, and again in February as the buds begin to swell. Hold off on pruning until February.  

VEGETABLES:  While planting season is probably over, soil preparation isn’t. Throw some lime over the soil and then cover it with an inch or two of mulch (a good quality compost works best). This will also help keep all those annual weeds down too.

Next week I’ll talk about roses, berries, grapes and kiwis, bulbs and perennials and general weed control.  In the meantime, get yourself mentally prepared to accomplish these tasks and remember these general thoughts:

  • Lime almost everything
  • Dormant spray most deciduous plants 
  • You can plant through the winte
  • Tip your nursery professional generously! (Just teasing)

Since there’s only one more month left in this miserable year, we might as well make the most of it in the garden so we can get off on the right foot in January 2021. And of course, stay safe and keep on gardening.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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