Winter Maintenance for Gardens and Flower Beds

Information gathered from Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Eight tasks for the winter season to ensure your landscape is ready for spring growth.

Remove finished and dead plants

Overwintering plant litter can harbor pests and diseases. Tilling under pest and disease free litter is another option. Replenish your compost pile. Remove diseased litter to promote good sanitation and to prevent future problems with pests.

Address weed problems

Remove and trash or burn those pesky weeds. Keep in mind, weed species can overwinter in compost piles, so be cautious. Breaking the overwintering cycle is a key method to controlling weeds.

Maintain soil for spring

This is the best time to add soil amendments such as composted materials. Another way of replenishing nutrients like nitrogen in the soil is through planting cover crops. An inexpensive way of controlling and removing weeds, weed seeds, and disease agents is by soil solarization.

Prune perennials

Winter is the best time to prune within your landscape and flowering beds. Shrubs and trees require periodic pruning to remove diseased or dead material, to help control and direct growth, and to prevent potential hazards. Ornamental grasses are best pruned during the spring. Divide and plant if one has perennial bulbs. Late fall and winter is the best time to divide and plant. If it blooms on “new” wood, prune it in winter and spring. If it blooms on “old” wood, prune it in summer and fall. It’s essential that you prune after flowering.

A composting bin with lawn clippings.

Build compost

Nature is always working even during winter. Finished compost can be used as a soil amendment. Litter from the finished garden can be used replenish the compost pile. Remember to reduce, reuse and recycle.


Adding mulch helps to manage soil moisture. Mulch can also help to manage soil temperature and to add organic material to the soil profile as well. Adding a good layer of mulch around dormant perennials can prevent potential winter damage during very cold months.

Evaluate your garden and flower beds

Determine the season’s best and worst performers.  Are there new cultivars available for next season? Potential problems can be avoided if you choose the “right plant for the right place.” Discover if there were any environmental pressures that caused problems. What about watering; an irrigation system might help. Were there any pests? If so, adopt trap crops and resistant varieties to help with pest control.

Maintain equipment and tools

Increase the life of equipment by cleaning engines, sharpening and oiling tools, storing garden hoses, nozzles, and breakers, and covering or insulating outside hose bibs.

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Poinsettia Care

Information gathered from Alabama Cooperative Extension System

During the Holidays

These care tips can help keep poinsettias healthy during the holidays.

  • Place the plant in an area with plenty of natural light, away from vents and drafts that can dry out the pot.
  • Water the plant only when dry. If the pot is covered in a holiday foil or decorative wrap, allow excess water to drain. Poinsettias are susceptible to stem and root diseases, so draining the excess water is important.
  • Utilize an all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20) at one-a-month intervals.

After the Holidays

The cost to keep a poinsettia growing for next year is marginal compared to purchasing a new plant every year.

  • Remove decorative wraps from the planter after the holiday season and place a saucer underneath it. This allows for better air circulation for the roots during the rest of the growing season.
  • Keep water and fertilizer at regular intervals.
  • Move the plant to a larger container, with new potting mix, as the plant grows.
  • Cut back to 5 to 6 inches if the plant becomes long and leggy. Periodically, cut the tips of the branches to encourage more side branching and to maintain a fuller appearance.

Care Throughout the Year

In the summer, growers should move the plant outside in an area with indirect sunlight. Summer is also the time to increase fertilizer to at least twice the frequency.

In mid-summer, trim the plant as needed to keep a manageable size and fullness and move to a location with full sunlight.

After Labor Day, bring the plant inside to a location that gets a minimum of six hours of sunlight, preferably more. This will start preparing the plant for their flowers and their colorful foliage. Growers should also start reducing the frequency of fertilizer.

Long periods of darkness are vital to the iconic colors of the poinsettia. Toward the end of September, they must have at least 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 11 hours of bright light each day. Placing the plant in a closet, basement, or under a box can give it the required hours of darkness. During the periods of bright light, make sure to rotate the pot to ensure the plant receives even light from all sides.

Just before Thanksgiving, stop the dark period treatments, reduce the amount of water and fertilizer and place the plant in a sunny area that receives at least six hours of direct light.

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Beauty in the Gardens

The gorgeous Sasanqua Camellias are in full bloom in the gardens. They must be seen up close to really appreciate how lovely they are and see how they brighten this fall season. In January the Japonica Camellias will be in bloom and will provide a splash of color in the wintry months. Visit the garden often and in all seasons so that you can enjoy the variety of blossoms, colors, foliage, trees and shrubs that change throughout the year. 

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Controlling Lawn Burweed

Information gathered from Alabama Cooperative Extension System

The most wonderful time of the year is here. Holiday wishes, good food and – burweed? The prickly weed makes its appearance during the winter. Not only is it unattractive, but it can cause unpleasant encounters. Shane Harris, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System county coordinator for Tallapoosa County, said people really don’t notice this weed until they actually step on it. Don’t let burweed put a damper on the holiday spirit; take control before it’s too late.


Lawn burweed (Solvia sessilis) is a common winter annual plant. This means that the plant grows in the winter, then flowers and makes seeds in the late winter and early spring. Burweed becomes a major problem when it begins to grow seed. The seeds are encapsulated by small burs with sharp spines on them.

Alabama Extension Turfgrass Specialist David Han describes the spurs as “something much smaller, yet much more painful and annoying to step on, than the gumballs from a sweetgum tree.”

The spiny burs are the fruit of the plant. Once a burweed plant make the burs, they will be present in the lawn for a while. Even if homeowners manage to kill the burweed at this stage with a herbicide, the dead burs will remain. Their resilience quickly becomes a nuisance to homeowners.

Control Options

Burweed is difficult to eradicate completely, however steps can be taken to discourage its growth. Since lawn burweed is a winter plant, it grows when warm lawns are dormant and thin. Therefore, it is important to keep a lawn in good shape going into the winter.

Factors that can thin out a lawn—including too much shade, soil problems (compaction, improper pH or improper watering) or improper fertilization—will accelerate burweed growth. Unfortunately, burweed is impossible to avoid completely. According to Han, the seeds are numerous and easily spread by water or animals. It is often more of a problem after wet winters because of the excess rains that help spread the seeds.

“The key is to either prevent lawn burweed seeds from coming up in the fall with a pre-emergent herbicide or killing emerged burweed plants before they start to flower,” Han said. “In most of Alabama, this means to kill them in December or early January.”

Pre-emergent herbicides should be used during October or November. These herbicides are marketed as weed preventers in stores. This application will prevent the seeds from coming up in the first place. As an alternative, there are several post-emergence herbicides (marketed as weed killers) that can be used in December or early January. The key is to kill the burweed before they produce the spiny fruits. Han says almost all commercially-available lawn weed killers should successfully remove it.

According to Harris, waiting until the spring to control burweed will allow for the burs to form. At this stage, it is already too late to control. In December or January, scan through the lawn to check for the plant. They will be small in December, so it must be an active search. If any weeds are found, use a broadleaf weed killer.

More Information

Make sure the only thing spreading this holiday season is joy and cheer, not lawn burweed. For more information about lawn burweed control, check out the video from Harris below. People can also visit the Alabama Extension website,, to contact the home grounds, gardens and home pests agent in their area for additional assistance.


How Does Your Garden Grow?

Protecting your plants against frost.

Fruit Trees

When it comes to a fruit tree, the hardiness level of its buds greatly depends on the developmental stage the buds are in. Generally speaking, if a fruit tree has flowered and set its fruit, it should be safe from a light frost. At this stage of development, research has shown that 10 percent of fruit will be killed when temperatures reach 28 °F.

Garden Vegetables

When it comes to garden vegetables, cool-season plants generally handle colder temperatures well. Cool-season plants include vegetables such as peas, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, onions, carrots, and many others. Some of them can withstand temperatures between 26 and 31°F for a limited amount of time without receiving notable damage.

Warm-season garden vegetables, however, are not as hardy as their cool-season counterparts. Many of these vegetables can start to see foliar damage at 33 °F. These vegetables include ones such as peppers, tomatoes, squash, corn, okra, and others.

Protecting Plants from Frost Damage

There are several things that people can do to protect their plants from frost damage. People may have to get a little creative to protect their plants from cold weather.

A commonly used method is loosely covering the plants with some sort of lightweight fabric, such as a bed sheet. This can add 3 to 5 degrees to the ambient air temperature, which can make all the difference. Cloth material is more effective than using a plastic covering because plastic will transfer more heat. Also, foliage may freeze if it comes in contact with a plastic covering.

When using this method, remember that the goal is to trap the heat from the ground, not from the plant. The following are several tips to follow to protect your plants from a threat of frost:

  • Weigh down the material used to cover the plants to prevent the wind from blowing it off the plants. Make sure there are no openings for heat to escape from.
  • Make sure the plants are well watered. Plants that are lacking water are more vulnerable to frost damage. Also, wet soil retains heat longer and will slowly release it during a frost.
  • For small, vulnerable plants – such as tomato and pepper plants – people can cover them with a bucket, newspaper, or gallon milk carton to protect them. Under extreme circumstances, recently-planted transplants can be dug up, brought inside, and then replanted once the threat has passed.

It is extremely important for people to remove the covering off of plants each morning and temperatures increase. Keeping a cover on a plant that is in direct sunlight can cause heat damage to any new growth.


Information gathered from Alabama Cooperative Extension System

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