Save some seeds. Before cutting down plant material, go through your garden and collect any seeds that you may want to save to start new plants. By now, nature has done most of the work in getting them ready for storage; however, once harvested, avoid exposing them to moisture by keeping them in a dry, airtight container in a dark, cool place until you are ready to plant them again in a few months.
Protect trees and shrubs from winter damage. Early winter and early spring can be the most damaging times of year for young trees and shrubs due to the sometimes extreme temperature fluctuations, wildlife damage, and other climate curveballs here in the Northern Plains. Thankfully, there are methods for mitigating and preventing damage. Tree wraps are probably the easiest method of protecting trees or shrubs from the effects of hungry wildlife or sun scalding. For further protection, wrapping the tree or shrub with chicken wire can deter rabbits or other wildlife from chewing on the bark. It also creates a catch for leaves and snow, which further insulate plants to ensure winter survival.
Put your garden to bed. Most likely we have experienced a killing freeze by now, prompting us to begin cleaning up our gardens and getting them ready for winter. Annuals should be removed, and temperate perennials should have already been harvested and stored for winter. Yet as much as you might want to, refrain from cutting your perennial plant material down in the fall. The herbaceous material can insulate the plants from the cold temperatures of winter while providing great winter interest to the landscape and food for resident wildlife. However, plants that exhibited issues with powdery mildew this season should have their herbaceous material promptly removed and disposed of to reduce the threat of reoccurrence, as the spores can overwinter on the foliage and stems.
Apply dormant seed turf. Before you hang up your gardening gear for the season, take some cool-season grass seed and do a dormant seeding prior to the first significant snowfall. While there are a couple of extra variables to the overall success rate of seeding turf in the winter as opposed to the spring, dormant seeding can prove quite successful. The soon-to-freeze ground combined with a snow cover holds the seed in place until conditions are just right for the seed to naturally germinate and grow during those first couple chilly weeks after snow melt. For more tips on autumn lawn care, read on here.
Winterize your power equipment. Before cozying down inside and taking a much-needed break from gardening for winter, winterize your power equipment before placing it in long-term storage. Equipment such as lawn mowers, trimmers, chain saws, and leaf blowers benefit greatly from a little TLC now to ensure they are ready to go next season. Be sure to change the oil and lubricate any moving parts. Also, remove any remaining fuel or add fuel stabilizer to a full tank. Clean or replace the air filter, and remove any debris that has accumulated. Finally, tighten any hardware that may have come loose. The extra work now will save you time and money when the next growing season begins.
—Chris Schlenker is horticulture and grounds manager at McCrory Gardens of South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota.