Raising a garden can be something like the old saying about a visit from the grandkids: With grandkids, grandparents are glad to see the headlights that mean they are coming and equally glad to see the tail lights as they leave. Spring means it is time to garden and you are glad to see it coming. Then after a long summer of battling with the elements and pests, you are glad to see the frost that means it is getting over. That sudden cold weather last week felt a lot like winter tacked right on to the end of summer. One friend told me she was philosophically opposed to digging out a coat before she had a chance to wear a jacket and I have to agree. We need a little autumn. True to form, however, the weather has turned back to warm for a bit and we just finished a Halloween with higherthan- normal temperatures. It is a reprieve. We can accomplish a few simple outdoor chores before we give up too soon. Do a few tasks now and spring will be easier and your yard will look better for the winter season. Gardens Fall is an excellent time to clean litter, leaves and other trash from the vegetable garden. This eliminates hiding places for insect pests. You do have the option to rototill the garden and incorporate composted plant material into the soil. Leaves just off the trees are also candidates for this kind of tilling. They will break down in the soil over the winter, enriching and loosening the soil. Perennials Let the foliage die down on perennials before you cut them down to the ground. This allows them to store extra energy in their roots for next year’s growth. Some perennials get crowded and need to be divided every four or five years. Perennials that bloom in the spring should be dug and divided in the fall. Those that bloom in the fall like mums should be divided in the spring. Although we have had some frost, it will probably be several weeks before the ground freezes. Divide and replant perennials three or four weeks before the ground freezes. They should be divided and replanted soon. This allows time for the plants to develop a root system in the still-warm soil. If you are growing perennials that are a little tender for this area’s cold winters, they need a little different care. Like other perennials, let the foliage die down after the first killing frost. You may wish to cover the soil with a layer of leaves or other mulch to keep them insulated through the winter.
Dig tender perennials like tuberous begonias, dahlias, gladiolas and canna lilies. Allow underground structures to cure (dry) in a warm area for a week or two, and then store them in a cool, dry area away from danger of frost (usually 45 to 50 degrees). Using packing material like sawdust to store the plants. Dahlias and tuberous begonias sometimes get too dry. Stand a cup full of water in the tubers to help keep the humidity up.
Another option is to plant tender summer bulbs such as these in pots and then cut them back and move them into a cool-butnot- freezing area for the winter. They will hold through the winter and be ready to put back outdoors in the spring by just putting them out and allowing them to re-grow. You also have the option to divide them and replant them next spring.
Put the green garden waste — except weeds that have gone to seed — into a compost pile. Most home compost piles are not big enough to heat enough to sterilize the rotting compost and kill weed seeds. Dispose of weeds that have gone to seed in the garbage. The green or previously green garden waste and autumn leaves that are so good for compost are free. Run a lawnmower over the leaves to help break them up and speed up composting. Add nitrogen to encourage the growth of soil microbes in breaking it down. A general rule of thumb is for every inch of material in a 100-squarefoot area, add 1 pound (2 cups) of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0).
Machines and Tools
Take care of your garden equipment before you put it away for the winter. Gasoline powered equipment needs to be drained unless the manufacturer says otherwise. Once the tank is empty, spray WD-40 or similar material in the tank. Take out the spark plug and squirt a few drops of oil into the cylinder. Crank the engine a few times to coat the inside of the engine and carburetor to help prevent rust and build up. Change engine oil as well. There is also the option to put gasoline stabilizer into the gasoline in the tank so that it doesn’t varnish inside the engine during the winter.
Hand tools like shovels, rakes, hoes, pruners and loppers need seasonal maintenance. Clean off all the dirt and debris and sharpen the blades. Rub old engine oil onto the blades with a cloth to help keep them from rusting. Put a little linseed oil on wooden handles to keep them from cracking.
Trees and Shrubs
Young trees with thin bark can be damaged by the winter sun. As the sun shines on the trunks in the daytime, the surface heats and begins to break dormancy. Nighttime frosts freeze the bark and damage it. Protect the trees by wrapping them with white tree wrap that you can purchase at any local nursery or garden center. The white wrap helps reflect the sun from the tender trunks. Remember to remove the wrap in the spring to allow air circulation. Don’t get overly anxious to start your pruning unless you have a very large orchard to deal with. It is best to wait until the coldest part of the winter has passed before you prune trees and shrubs.
It shouldn’t be too late to plant nursery stock this year given the current weather conditions. The warm weather we are experiencing probably won’t last, but the soil should stay warm for a while to encourage rooting without the summer heat to dry and damage the tops of the plants. You should be able to find some great buys in nurseries looking to get their stock sold so they don’t have to care for it over the winter.
Spring flowering bulbs, if you can find them, should be a bargain right now as well. If you have some on hand that you have purchased earlier in the season, get them planted. Ideally, they should have been planted before now, but they will not survive the winter out of the ground. Bulbs planted in the spring will not bloom that year.
This is the best time of the year to fertilize your lawn. Apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer after you mow it for the last time. The fertilizer will be sent to the root system for storage and it will produce quick energy to start growing next spring.