Fall is the time of year to plant bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs, but it’s also the time when white tailed deer, rabbits and rodents feed on our landscape plantings. Snow cover offers protection for smaller animals to shred the bark from fruit trees and other woody ornamentals. They can make tunnels in the lawn under the snow to be revealed when the snow melts in the spring. White tailed deer often eat perennials, shrubs or young saplings to the ground.
When cold weather arrives, ornamentals that were watered, fed and tended all summer are a tastier choice over wild vegetation for hungry deer. Protect shrubs and small trees from deer browsing by using chicken wire fencing and wrap the stems to prevent rodent damage.
To hinder deer browsing in your landscape, you can try substituting less palatable plants and creating confusion or blocks to your favorite specimens. Other means of discouragement include fencing, repellents, sudden movement and loud noises. No plant is 100 percent deer-resistant; some are just less tasty so are passed up for better ones, making them less likely to be heavily damaged by deer.
Practicing companion planting by mixing in your deer-resistant plants around and near the more delectable ones will help to confound and confuse both rabbits and deer when they come around to browse a bit in your garden. A few deer-resistant landscape plants are:
Annuals: dill, hot peppers, cucumber, rhubarb, and marigolds.
Perennials: Anemone, Columbine, Foxglove, Lavender, Pachysandra, Rudbeckia, Salvia, and Thyme.
Ornamental grasses: Japanese silver grass, switch grass, feather reed grass, and sedges.
Shrubs and trees: boxwood, American holly, Kousa dogwood, lilac, paper birch, spruces, and red pine.
- When your houseplants are brought indoors, they will go through a shock at being moved to a different “climate,” and they will lose leaves and may begin to droop. Don’t overwater, fertilize or put them in direct drafts from the furnace. You can cut them back a bit, but not drastically. If you move plants closer to windows for better light, don’t place them so close that the foliage rests against the cold glass panes.
- You can still plant spring blooming bulbs and divide fall blooming bulbs if you do it before the ground freezes. They will develop a healthy root system in the still warm soil while the bulb itself stays dormant. Sharp sand or gravel in the bottom of the hole may deter animals from digging them up.
- Christmas cactus should be setting buds now. When you see the tiny nubs on the end of the leaves, find the plant a permanent spot and don’t be tempted to move it. Any temperature change can cause the buds to drop.
- It usually takes four to six weeks for amaryllis to produce a flower from the time you begin watering, so begin now for a Christmas bloom. If you stored last year’s bulb, replace the top inch of potting soil, move it into a warm spot and water.
- Store your clay and ceramic containers in the garage before it freezes so they don’t crack. Remove crusted minerals from clay pots by soaking in water for several hours. Scrub with steel wool and dish soap if needed.
- If you brought geraniums indoors, prune them back to half their original size. Keep in a cool, sunny spot and fertilize with a blooming houseplant food every two to three weeks. They will start to regenerate new growth and bloom in mid-winter.
- Cover perennial beds for winter with a thick layer of shredded leaves, bark, mulch, evergreen boughs or seed-free straw after the ground freezes. This will prevent cycles of freeze and thaw between now and spring. Be cautious about using hay bales, as they are usually full of weed seeds.
- If you prefer neat garden beds going into winter, you can cut back perennials after a hard freeze, but you may want to leave the foliage as they hold leaves and snow which gives your perennials extra protection in the winter.
- Clip the seedpods from black-eyed Susans, columbine, perennial sunflower, and verbena and sow in various open spots. When they sprout next spring, you can transplant or leave where they are.
- Plant garlic cloves and shallots 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart, then mulch with 6 inches of straw or shredded leaves.
- Dig up remaining root crops.
- All of the kales, from curly purple kale to blue-green dragon kale, are sweeter after a frost than they were in summer.
- Set a worm-composting bin in your kitchen or basement to take care of kitchen scraps and avoid trips to the compost pile in cold weather. You can purchase a ready-made system or make your own.
- Mulch strawberry plants with several inches of straw.
- If you’re planning a patch of strawberries or asparagus, prepare the soil now so the bare-root plants ordered over the winter can be planted early in the spring.
- Prepare a seedbed for peas and spinach for next spring.
- Spinach can be sown now for early-early spring harvest.
- Leaves contain a wide range of plant nutrients and using them as garden mulch will benefit next year’s vegetable crops. Remove any dead, diseased plants and weeds from the garden and then pile whole or shredded leaves on the soil. In spring, till the leaves in where you’ll be planting and leave the rest for paths.
- Rakes, shovels, spading forks, or any tools with wooden handles will benefit from a protective treatment of one part linseed oil and one part turpentine. Apply two coats evenly.
- Winterize all power tools and sharpen, clean, and repair hand tools before storing them.
- Drain and store garden hoses and sprinklers. Turn the water to the outside faucets off before it freezes.
- After the temperatures drop below twenty degrees, protect your hybrid tea and floribunda roses by mounding peat moss, compost, or shredded leaves mixed with soil around the base to about a foot or more.
- Don’t prune rose bushes too severely in the late fall. After the leaves have dropped and the soil is near freezing, place a layer of loose soil or compost around the base of the bush. Water periodically during windy dry spells when temperatures are above freezing.
Don’t prune your boxwood, azaleas, and roses now. Pruning stimulates growth and new growth after pruning will be susceptible to winter freeze damage. See our guide to pruning tools.
- To prevent insect pests and disease-causing organisms from overwintering, rake up and dispose of fallen fruits and leaves from under your fruit trees, as well as any shriveled fruits still clinging to branches.
- You can still prune evergreens if the ground is not frozen.
- If you are planning on buying a living Christmas tree to plant outside after the holidays are over, dig and prepare the planting hole now before the ground freezes. Place the soil from the hole in the garage or basement to keep from freezing. Cover the hole with a board to keep out snow and to prevent accidents. Keep your tree inside for no more than 3- 5 days to prevent it from breaking dormancy, which would make it susceptible to cold injury when it goes back outside. When you’re ready to plant, water the root-ball of the tree well before placing it in the hole, then cover with soil up to where the roots flare out at the base of the trunk, and water again.
- Water evergreens, shrubs, and trees deeply every five weeks, unless there has been a lot of rain. Water when temperatures are over 45 degrees and early in the day to allow the moisture to soak in. South and west exposures and slopes need the most attention.
- Lightly toss some shredded leaves on the lawn. They will decompose through autumn and winter and microbes will break the leaves down into nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and micronutrients, which will feed the grass.
- Clean up and winterize the lawn mower for storage. Run the gas tank to empty or use an additive to keep moisture from contaminating the fuel.