View from the Garden: Overwintering Flowers and Plants

Preparing your garden for winter isn't as much work as it's made out to be.
Preparing your garden for winter isn't as much work as it's made out to be. Photo credit: dennisvdw/iStock/Thinkstock

We are almost finished winterizing out clients’ gardens, to the extent that I winterize. I do like to leave almost the entire garden as is until spring for visual interest, to give insects places to stay during the winter and to give coverage to the crowns of plants. Each gardener has his or her opinions about garden over-wintering, undoubtedly based on experience—as are mine.

This week, we worked in a garden with many dahlias. They are such a splendid flower, blooming in later summer when the garden needs a perk-up and into the fall, reminding the gardener of the glories of gardening. I have not had good luck overwintering their tubers, but I know gardeners that have. New tubers are not expensive and are easy to grow. There are many varieties and I like to try new ones each year. If you want to overwinter yours, instructions are easy to find on the internet.

My husband and I went to a local farm stand last week and with much deliberation, each of us selected the perfect pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern. We have done this for many years and enjoy the carving and the glowing lanterns on the porch as much as any child. Of course, the ones we made this year were the best ever!

Many farm stands have enumerable varieties of pumpkins, some tastier than others. Ask the farm stand operator for guidance. They might also have gourds, which are not edible but are perfect fall decorations for your house. They seem to get more outrageously colored and shaped each year. They will last in the house for a long time and eventually dry out completely. I love them and want one of every shape. But I restrain myself and get three or four.

All summer I have been thinking of ways, within reason, that I can protect a place in my yard from deer, raccoons and squirrels so that I can make a vegetable garden. Only 4-foot fences are all allowed in the front of houses in Sag Harbor. What can I do to a 6-foot fence (allowed at the front edge of the house to the property line and around the back and sides) to keep deer out—and what about the raccoons and rabbits? And then, then there are squirrels, which I like, but not when they’re eating tomatoes. I have thought of many schemes but a hoop house seems the only thing that offers a possibility. But given all of the beds, I could build one only about 4 feet wide. So, I think I will grow gourds.

I have grown bird house gourds for several clients and then made them into bird houses. They are easy to grow and look amazing on a trellis. Watching them grow is fascinating. After the plants are dead, the gourds are removed (avoid bruising them) and put into a cool airy place to dry. They are dry when the seeds rattle when the gourd is shaken. They will probably develop interesting dark spots during the process. When they are completely dry, use a hole saw to cut the opening and a 1/4-inch drill bit to make four drain holes at the bottom. You will need to make a hook to hang it. I hang some inside trees and on outer branches. I have had several of these in my trees and on trellises for years; not the same ones, but they do last 2 to 3 years, and they have tenants every year.

Bird house gourds have hard shells, and there are many kinds. I think I will try a couple of other ones in my flower garden next year. They are supposed to be critter proof, though I wonder about those tender baby ones. I will have to build a trellis to elevate them and I want to grow them so badly, I will net them if I need to!

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion call her at 631-434-5067 or visit

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