As we finish cleanup, use the gathered and shredded leaves for the compost pile or as winter mulch on beds. Remember to add in some nitrogen rich material for “cooking” your compost (grass clippings, shells or cotton seed meal) during cooler weather. Mulch sensitive plants you want to overwinter with a layer of straw.
Leave your ornamental grasses standing. Their added movement in the landscape is interesting and they provide shelter for overwintering wildlife. You can cut them back in the early spring before new growth begins.
On a warm day, drain and curl up your hoses. Store them indoors if possible.
If deer are hungry, they’ll forage most things. Providing a food source, at the furthest reaches of your property, may help your garden survive a hungry herd of deer. If hunting is permitted in your area, reconsider this suggestion.
- Adding nasturtiums to the vegetable garden now will help deterring squash beetles later. Their blooms are beautifully colored, graceful and edible.
- Harvest frost-sweetened Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, and kale.
- Continue to thin lettuce and spinach. Harvest from the bottom of Brussels sprout stalks and let the smaller ones above mature. Brussels sprouts are always sweeter after they have endured a frost.
- Having a light metal or PVC frame (and a plan) in place is a good idea for your floating row covers. Try using light metal concrete reinforcing ‘ladder’ wires for this task. They are easily bent, cut and nearly invisible when the covers are removed. They also are very easy to store.
- Remember that the floating row covers will also keep birds and bugs from feasting on strawberries and other fruits. However, make sure you uncover plants that need pollination during daylight hours to let in the bees.
- If foraging deer plague your vegetable garden, surround the garden in fencing that is at least 6 feet tall, and well staked. A fenced garden will also help with visiting rabbits, if the fencing grid is small enough in the lower 2 feet of the fence. If your garden is quite large, you may want to consider using a solar powered electrical fence. The wires will emit a light, pulsating, low-voltage shock, that will not harm the deer. (Height is an important consideration, as they easily hop over a 4-foot fence.)
- If you have some coleus or geranium plants you would like to keep over the winter, take cuttings and bring them indoors to root. Dust rooting hormone powder on the cut ends to help roots get started in the potting mixture, or place them in a tall glass container and let them root in the water. (I have experimented with clear glass vs. cobalt blue glass containers. My coleus cuttings developed strong roots in a weekend when in a cobalt blue glass container. The roots of the same cuttings in the same window, at the same time, in clear glass took much longer to develop.) Once potted, grow in a sunny east or south-facing window.
- Don’t miss your chance to plant spring-blooming bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips. Plant them to a depth three times the bulb’s height. If you want continuous blooms, try setting smaller bulbs on top of the larger ones; such as planting tulips deeper than your hyacinths or crocus. (My refrigerator crisper drawers are full of bulbs “chillin’ out” before planting.)
- If deer eat your spring-flowers, plant daffodils, Dutch irises, grape hyacinths, or scillas since deer tend to avoid them.
- I have become a fan of using lava rock as a mulch in beds and pots that are plagued with critters digging up my plants. The downside is that I need to remove the lava rock when I replant or transplant.)
- Cut back other perennials (except spring bloomers, roses, and mums) to a few inches above soil level.
- After clean up, let your garden air dry for at least a week, before adding new plant material. Mark the location of any young plants that have self-seeded over the summer. You’ll be better prepared to transplant them in the spring.
- It is a good idea at this time to draw a rough sketch showing where all your plants are growing. This is invaluable when you are going through all those seed and plant catalogs in the dead of winter.
- When you broadcast wildflower seed, lightly rake it in, for a bright spring show. You can also top-dress with compost.
- Mulch is not meant to keep the soil warm, but to keep the temperatures around your plants even. This keeps the plants from heaving during fluctuations in temperatures. It also keeps the plants from starting growth too early in the spring. Lay mulch around shallow-rooted plants after the temperatures drop. Avoid piling it high as it can cause rot. The rotting is not a bad thing, as it is contributing more of an organic mix into the soil. Keeping it just a few inches away from the stems of young plants will cut down on soil borne diseases and fungus. If rodents are a problem where you live, thick mulch may not be a good idea. Mice are very fond of straw and hay winter homes.
- A gardener’s keen observation is the first, best tool. Before deciding what types of wildflowers to grow, take a walk around your property and observe the different kinds of sites you have. Try to gauge the length of sunlight in particular locations. Is this space-shaded part of the time, or receiving filtered, dappled light down through leaves?If you’re observing your yard during late fall, when trees and shrubs are leafless, imagine how much shade wildflowers will get in the summer if planted near them. Consider the soils. Are areas dry and parched, sandy or moist and boggy? Are sites protected from the wind or threatened by it? Is there nothing but moss growing under a particular tree?
- The length of time and quality of sunlight received daily can be crucial for native plants. Wildflowers common to prairies and large, open meadows normally grow in full sun and will do best when they receive half a day or more of direct sunlight. Plants classified as savanna or open woodland species prefer growing in partial shade. Some flowers that grow in shady areas have adapted to get the sunlight they need by flowering before the trees completely leaf out.
Other major factors to consider when looking over your property are the types of soil you have, their acidity or alkalinity as measured by soil pH, and the amount of water they retain at various times of the year. Many wildflowers will tolerate drought conditions or relatively poor soils. Yet even these tough plants, (such as black-eyed Susan), will grow more vigorously if planted in richer soil. You may decide to plant black-eyed Susan in an area with relatively poor soil, simply to curb its enthusiasm.
- To collect native plants from the wild is unethical and often illegal (in the case of rare or threatened species like lady’s-slippers and pitcher plants). Fortunately, you can purchase native plants that have been propagated from seed.
- Many wildflowers are dormant in the fall or spring, making this a fine time for transplanting them. Collecting seeds of wildflowers is appropriate, so long as you harvest seeds judiciously, taking only a small sample so the existing plant colonies can reproduce. Today, wildflower seeds are quite widely available, so we’re frequently better off purchasing these. Growing plants from seed is certainly more economical than buying mature plants. The main disadvantage is that many native plants require a long time to mature or to germinate from seed. Many types of seeds need pretreatment before they can be planted. Most often this involves stratification (planting the seeds in a pot and then refrigerating them for several months until the seeds are fooled into believing that it’s time to break dormancy and germinate). Sometimes pouring very hot water over the soil covering them will help them germinate more quickly. Experiment and make notes in your garden journal.
- Growing a wildflower lawn or meadow lets you sow mixed seeds directly on top of the ground in either the fall or spring. You’ll appreciate the opportunity to leave your mower in the garage while enjoying the color, movement and textures of a mass planting of wildflowers. As plants that exist happily in the wild without human care, native plants tend to be quite efficient at reproducing themselves through seed dispersal and other means. Do some research and try to avoid creating problems down the line.
Trees and Shrubs
- With the ending of summer, days get shorter. The changes in the angle of the sun and the amount of daylight trigger the trees to begin getting ready for winter. Here is a brief explanation for the color changes we see in the leaves of deciduous trees:
- Plants take water from the ground through their roots. They absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Plants use sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. This is called photosynthesis (putting together with light.) Glucose is usable food for the plant’s growth. Chlorophyll is a chemical that gives plants their green color and helps make photosynthesis possible.
- The month of October is often one of the driest months of the year. This also helps trigger the plants to prepare to go into dormancy by November. This lack of light and water cuts off photosynthesis, allowing the trees to rest, and live off the food they had stored during the summer.
- As the chlorophyll disappears from the leaves the yellow and orange colors emerge. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves since the previous spring, but have been hidden by the abundance of green. The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves to convert the glucose into a red color. The brown color of trees, like some oaks, is made from waste products left in the leaves. The fallen leaves, when shredded and added to compost bins or used as mulch, help continue the cycle of life.
- “Evergreens” are another science marvel. They keep most of their leaves, or needles, during the winter and continue to photosynthesize, if provided enough water. It is very important that evergreens do not dry out prior to a freeze. Their special leaves, or needles, are resistant to cold and moisture loss.
- This time of year, take advantage of late-season tree sales. The only challenge with trees in pots purchased now is that they may be root-bound. Before you plant trees in the ground, loosen the roots. Otherwise, they may simply continue to encircle the plant rather than spread out. Make the planting hole as much as twice the size of the pot. Amend the soil if needed. Water deeply, after planting.
- Fallen leaves will smother and kill a lawn if left in place all winter. If you have a heavy leaf accumulation, consider moving the shredded leaves to be used as mulch in the flowerbeds. (Don’t over pile them though. Increasing organic matter will stimulate the soil microbes that support the soil.
- Continue to mow grass until it stops actively growing, using a mulching blade on your mower. For the final mowing of the season, cut cool-season grasses (fescue, rye blends) to 2½ inches and warm-season grasses between 1½ and 2 inches. This is just a little shorter than you should cut it during the spring and early autumn.
- Prevent weedy patches next spring by reseeding now.
- Grass seed grows well in fall because the temperatures are ideal and it has less competition from annual weeds. Just be sure to give the lawn enough time to establish itself before winter weather hits. Plant and renovate warm-season grasses in the spring (Zoysia, St Augustine, Bermuda).
- Don’t fertilize warm-season grasses in fall.
- Resist use of a pre-emergent for your turf if you have just seeded. The pre-emergent would be more useful after the seeds have germinated, as it can stunt or kill the seeds.