Winter Garden Tips for Native Plants

December 02 2022 – Kelly LaVaute, Staff Member

LEAVE IT BE

If your perennial plants are healthy, allow them to die back naturally. Don’t think you have to remove all the foliage before winter. Not only are you allowing all of the remaining energy left in the plant to feed the roots, but you are also providing valuable habitat for many of our native pollinators. They will use these plants to overwinter, perhaps having already laid their larvae within the stems. Grasses and other hollow-stemmed perennials are especially valuable.

Once the snow melts and spring begins, you can easily distinguish what is living and what is not and trim accordingly.

 

MULCH UP 

A smart practice to provide additional organic matter and additional insulation for certain plants is to cover up bare soil. If you’re leaving fallen leaves or ready to reuse your leaves, you can add a 2-3-inch layer of mulched leaves, straw or compost over your garden. Many species of native bees overwinter in the ground, and cultivating or using mulch interferes with this process. This is especially important in areas that will not receive sufficient snow cover, which helps insulate plants.


EXTRA PROTECTION FOR CONTAINER PLANTS

Assuming you’ve got a container that’s suited for winter, your perennial native plants in containers will survive winter! Similarly, you can add a layer of insulation with mulched leaves or straw. If you’re able to provide cover for your potted plants by moving them to an area protected from the elements like the garage, that can help. Just be sure to continue to check moisture levels. In spring, gradually remove any unnecessary cover to allow them to adjust (and wildlife to emerge).


SEED SOWING

Late fall through early spring is the best time to sow the seeds of many of the native wildflowers that support birds, bees and other wildlife. By planting these seeds, you may also promote local genetic diversity.

What’s more, by growing plants from seed obtained from a known source, “you can make sure the seed is appropriate for your region and that your source is using sustainable practices,” says Mary Phillips, Head of the Garden for Wildlife™ program. The former is important because some commercial suppliers sell “native” seeds that originate in a different region—or even another country—with genes that may not be ideally suited to your area.

Once you obtain seeds, here are some tips to get them growing from the National Wildlife Federation.


WINTERIZE GARDEN FEATURES

Small water features, like bird baths and fountains that can freeze should be emptied and protected to keep water from settling in them. You can get cover to protect them outside, or move them indoors. If you’re able to keep providing water safely, the birds will thank you! Don’t forget to winterize any irrigation or hose systems to prevent damage.


FIND MORE WAYS TO GARDEN FOR WILDLIFE 

Winter is also a great time to assess what might be missing from your garden. Do you have useless lawn you can replace with native plants? Can you add a water feature for wildlife? Are you offering wildlife sustenance throughout the year?

Evergreens are obvious choices for brightening up the winter landscape because they keep foliage all year-round. But plenty of deciduous plants or native shrubs also offer color, texture, and structure during the colder months. Look for trees and shrubs that add winter interest with their bark, fruit, or even blooms.

Plants that offer berries or seeds are ideal for birds. Dense trees and shrubs can also provide shelter from the elements for our feathered friends.



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7 comments

  • Lynda Marin: January 23, 2023
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    I found one of these paragraphs confusing:
    " If you’re leaving fallen leaves or ready to reuse your leaves, you can add a 2-3-inch layer of mulched leaves, straw or compost over your garden. Many species of native bees overwinter in the ground, and cultivating or using mulch interferes with this process. This is especially important in areas that will not receive sufficient snow cover, which helps insulate plants."
    Are you saying one should or should not mulch in light of bees overwintering in the ground?
    Thanks!

  • Matt : January 23, 2023
    Author's avatar image

    Love plants in frost tolerant containers. Make sure your container plants are rated at least 1 and preferably 2 USDA zones colder than where you live.
    Outdoor plants in containers are much more prone to thawing and refreezing.
    Thank you for a wonderful post.

  • Stancy Armstrong: January 23, 2023
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    I appreciate the winter tips. Have a large blooming holly bush, which I hope provides some sustenance for birds! Also hope and pray that the winter in Connecticut will be less severe! We have a marvelous bird population in our state! Happy “birding “!

  • Catherine Keller: January 23, 2023
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    This was a great article – wish I could send it to everyone in my Condominium Community – but nothing here to do that.
    Also, not all of us are on Facebook or other social networks, so plain old email would be great as a way to share. Just a thought – but think of all the people that would have seen it.

  • Bev: January 23, 2023
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    In the “Mulch Up” paragraphs , sentences 1 and 2 8pmseem to conflict. Do we mulch and potentially hurt insects, or not mulch and potentially hurt plants? Or do I just pick between the two and feel guilty?

  • Robin: January 23, 2023
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    I’m working to replace lawn with planter beds and I’m going to try Yellow Rattle in the spring because it uses lawn nutrients and naturally kills lawn! Hopefully the deer won’t eat it. Planting natives and pollinators and leaving everything as much as possible during the winter.
    Thank you for your advice!

  • Cathea Stanley: January 23, 2023
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    Thanks for tips that some of us may not Know or just need a reminder. Since I am a messy gardener and use leaves for mulch. I know see how the birds forage for food on the ground. I have been feeding birds for many years. I am sad that the prices of bird feed seeds, suet etc. have gotten so expensive and it’s a shame that some of us have had to cute back on some of the more expensive seeds, especially since we humans are building, pouring concrete and cutting down trees continually it seems.
    Sincerely yours,
    Cathea

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