Beginning gardener questions about winter

I couldn’t decide if this was maybe a GQ, or if gardening was technically a Cafe art, but I figured I was really looking for experience and opinion, so I put it here.

I’m just starting with this whole gardening thing (I’ve, embarassingly enough, got a blog about it - and it’s coming to winter. I’ve read a lot of books and stuff, and I feel I know a lot academically about the whole garden thing, but there’s a lot of stuff I guess they think is really obvious so they don’t usually tell you.

I live in zone 8, South Carolina, and while we’ve had freeze warnings we haven’t had a freeze yet and probably won’t for a few weeks. When is it too late for fall planting of perennials? (I’ve got a shrub coming today, I hope, so now better not be too late!) Everything I read says fall planting is the in thing to do, and my butterfly perennial garden I put in a month or so ago is doing great, but I’m kinda nervous about it.

I’ve read several places that you shouldn’t have to mulch a hardy plant for winter. True?

Do you water throughout the winter? If not when do you stop? When do you start again? I’ve got a drip irrigation system I’ve set up, and I know when it freezes I’m supposed to take the timer off, but do you just not water things over the winter? What about evergreens and such? It doesn’t get truly cold here, you know - it’ll freeze, sure, and maybe snow an inch or so once, but we always have something blooming.

Do you fertilize during the winter? I was considering getting my very own worm farm, but can I use the castings during the winter or will it encourage the plant to put out new shoots and die? What about things like camellias and pansies that will be blooming?

I’ve got a lot of bulbs ready but it got warm on me after the first cold snap. What if I plant them when it gets cold again and then it warms again? (It does that a lot here, and the reverse in February.) Can they be saved if they start to sprout?

Water a lot less in winter. Not only is there less evaporation, with reduced sunlight, there is greater chance of mold buildup.
Also, fertilizer should be reduced or stopped entirely when new growth slows. If there’s no growth to take up the nutirents, they stay in the soil and can sour it.

I don’t encourage mulching hardy perennials. I did that a few years ago, and the entire bed died of rot.

GRR! DHL has been sitting on my sweetshrub since Thursday right here in some facility in town! Zsofia smash!

I’m in zone 7, NC, and here you can plant perennials until at least the end of this month. End of Sept through October is ideal, but as warm as it’s been this year, you can still plant perennials with a developed root system in quart or gallon+ pots.

Even though we have had a couple of frosts, and the plant may die back above ground, the roots will continue to grow in the warm ground. In the South, it will be a while before the ground gets cold, and it never freezes more than a couple of inches. So, fall planted perennials actually develop a stronger root system than planted in spring-cold ground- and are then better suited to withstand the heat and drought of Southern summers.

Don’t fertilize now, you don’t want to encourage active green growth. You could put in a bit of bonemeal when you plant, it’s good for phosphorus, which encourages root growth.

As to watering, here in NC we are in a major drought. The ground is quite dry. So, I’m watering in newly planted fellas, and loosening soil/amending so that it will hold some water. Make sure that you loosen the roots of any root bound plants, so they can send out new roots and not be bound in little straightjackets.

The bane of many a plant in winter is cold, wet clay. Don’t just plug a plant in-- loosen soil, amend with organic material. Usually, there’s enough rain for plants to be fine, but as said, it’s a drought year, so this would bear some attention.

Hope this helps.

So, what about the worm farm? Useless in the winter?