General Garden Care

Add 2 to 4 inches of shredded leaves, composted manure or garden compost to perennial borders and garden beds once the ground has frozen completely.

Continue to feed the compost pile with grass clippings and dried plant material removed from garden beds. Avoid adding diseased plants to pile. Turn pile regularly to speed decomposition.

Before temperatures go below freezing, disconnect outside water sources, drain hoses and store indoors. Sharpen and oil tools. Store all unused herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals in original, labeled containers. If cardboard containers have become wet, consider disposing of the product. Avoid storing chemicals in unmarked plastic or glass containers because it’s too easy to forget what they are. Check expiration dates on products to be sure they’re still viable.

Clean birdbaths but try to maintain water supply for birds over winter. Small heating coils can be used in stone birdbaths to prevent water from freezing.

Clean and refill bird feeders. Regularly cleaning and rinsing bird feeders is essential to prevent spread of disease.

All ceramic, cement or terra cotta containers should be emptied, cleaned and stored in a frost-free space. Soilless mix from containers can be stored in a pile outside and combined with equal parts fresh mix for next year’s containers.

In the event of snowfall, avoid using salt-based, de-icing products in or around garden areas. Shovel snow before it freezes on sidewalks and sprinkle sand on walkways close to plantings.

Woody Plant Care

Continue to plant deciduous trees and shrubs as weather permits. The alternate time for planting is next March before plants leaf out. Apply 2 to 4 inches of wood chips, shredded bark, leaves or compost to root zones of newly planted trees and shrubs. Be sure to pull mulch 4 inches away from tree trunks.

Continue to water trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, until the ground has frozen completely.

If rabbits, rodents or deer have been a problem in past winters, take precautions with valuable woody plants now. To keep deer from rubbing antlers on tree trunks, spread garden netting or snow fencing around abused trees. Creation of physical barriers is more effective than sprays. Deter rabbits and rodents from overwintering in gardens by cutting down their winter habitats, e.g., ornamental grass clumps or large groupings of perennials that are left up for winter interest. Protect tree trunks from gnawing rabbits by setting up 12 to 16 inches of hardware cloth tacked into the soil three inches away from the trunk.

Protect hybrid tea, floribunda, multiflora, climbing, miniature and newly planted roses late this month or when we have had several days of 20-degree weather. Mound 12 to 18 inches of lightweight peat moss or composted manure at base of roses. This mound will sink down over the winter. Prune hybrid tea rosebushes back to knee height. Other types of roses can be pruned as needed early next spring before growth begins. If desired, further protect plants by caging with chicken wire and stuffing leaves into cage; or, punching quarter-sized holes in rose cones and placing over roses. Hold cones in place with bricks or other weights.

If necessary, construct burlap windbreaks 12 inches from any newly planted, sensitive shrubs. Screens will buffer damaging effects of bitter, northwest winter winds.

Anti-dessicant sprays are not recommended for routine use on broadleafed evergreens. Some gardeners have used these products on rhododendron, azalea, boxwood or holly to protect foliage from the drying effects of wind. Research indicates the waxy coating these products create can interfere with normal transpiration in the plants' foliage.

Annual and Perennial Care

Continue to plant hardy spring-flowering bulbs early this month if weather and soil conditions permit. After planting, broadcast a 5-10-5 fertilizer over the soil surface and water in well. If rabbits, rodents or deer have been a problem in past, consider planting varieties of the following pest-resistant bulbs: ornamental onion, grape hyacinth, fritillary, narcissus, windflower or winter aconite. Some gardeners recommend lining the planting hole with 1/2 inch of sharp sand or gravel before setting in bulbs. These products help deter rodents from digging.

Cut to the ground all remaining dried perennial material not intended for winter interest. Add to compost pile.

Lawn Care

Fertilize lawns for a final time early this month with a slow-release organic product high in nitrogen. Chicago area soils are naturally high in potassium and phosphorus, and most lawns don’t require more. This nitrogen application will help lawns retain green color longer in winter and color up faster in early spring.

Try to avoid walking on frozen turf; this breaks grass blades.

Indoor Plant Care

Plants brought indoors this fall might exhibit temporary “transplant shock” in their new environment due to changes in light and temperature. Sun-loving houseplants might suffer during cloudy winter season. If possible, consider supplemental artificial lights. Avoid overwatering houseplants. Cut back on fertilizer in general, except for plants intended to bloom all winter, such as miniature roses or geraniums.

Most houseplants appreciate a 10- to 15-degree difference in day and night temperature. Monitor plants for early signs of problems. When indoor heat is turned on, natural humidity disappears. Try to wash plants occasionally in a warm shower. Humidifiers and pebble trays can help raise humidity.

Continue to fertilize orchids with very dilute orchid fertilizer until they set flower buds. Monitor orchid foliage to be sure it doesn’t scorch from exposure to direct southern sun.