Even though winter is just around the corner, that doesn’t mean gardens can’t have value during the cold season.

In fact, several Wolff’s Apple House employees attended the Independent Garden Center Show East in Baltimore, Md., last year and heard Martha Stewart speak about this exact point and how a lot of people just don’t realize autumn is a great time to plant. In autumn, roots can focus on growing since flowering in hot, stressful weather is finally done for the year.

And while they already knew this, hearing Stewart discuss it gave hope that more people might start to see the value in continue to garden in autumn, explains Holly Thorpe, who is a Penn State Master Gardener and manages plant stock at Wolff’s Apple House.

Planning in advance for next year by planting perennials and shrubs in September and October can put you ahead in not only having something to enjoy eye-wise through the window once it’s chilly outside, but certain flowers and bushes offer seeds and berries for birds to eat if they’re not the type to migrate south.

bird & berries

Don’t Remove Those Dead Plants!

And since winged ones don’t have the luxury of access to grocery stores like we humans do, having plants in your yard, which they can use to supplement their nutritional needs, is also a nice balancing effort with nature. Don’t cut off the heads of Black-Eyed Susans and Coneflowers. Keeping pollinators nourished by saving your dead perennials with seed-filled tops is an easy way to give back to wildlife.

The spiked tops are also quaint landing zones for light blankets of snow.


snow-topped seedpods

A lot of conifer evergreens known to keep the color of their needles, including various shades of greens and also blue with Spruce shrubs and trees, offer lightly jagged edges which hold fallen snow as beautifully as fresh frosting on days when there’s a hint of precipitation.

Heuchera Adds Winter Interest

“Heuchera is a great plant because it comes in so many different colors, and it’s mostly evergreen,” she adds about this perennial which is also known more informally as Coral Bells.

purple coral bells

stoplight coral bells

“This perennial will maintain its color all season long,” she notes. “You can put it in the ground. There are some varieties which take a little more sun than others. You can put it in shade and in containers. And you can mix in some greens like Pine branches and Holly cut from your yard.”

Bettering the Soil for Spring

Thorpe also offers insights on how to work ahead in bettering soil for spring next year during winter months.

“You don’t really need to rake your leaves,” she says. “If you just mulch your leaves, having somebody go over them with a lawn mower, you don’t have to use fertilizer or pesticides. Obviously you don’t want big heavy piles of leaves, though.”

She points out that unseen critters can benefit from the chopped up layers of leaves.

“They make a habitat for over-wintering insects,” she says of the leafy debris. “Not all insects are bad. And some of them make their chrysalises in winter.”

Since plants can heave out of the ground from repeated freezing and thawing, extra leaf-litter mulch tucked around them helps to better protect them from the cold, too.

And composting anytime is fine, but using more than one kind of material is important.

“There are different nutrients plants need,” she notes. “You just want to make sure you provide as much different nutrition as you can for your plants, and then you won’t have to use Miracle-Gro.”

A mixture of mushroom compost, leaf compost and manure is a good combination.

Since certain kinds of compost like mushroom soil can be a little acidic, Krisher Thorpe recommends not amending garden soil and immediately planting but instead waiting some time in between these two stages so that the new nutrients have time to get absorbed into the ground first.

“Plants are already under stress from being planted,” she says. What’s in the soil affects their ability to absorb nutrients and water, based on different pH needs.” So give the soil some breathing room before joining new plants to your gardens in springtime.