October 2012 To-Do List: Zone 3

Susan Wells
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October 2012 To-Do List, Zone 3

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Preparing for winter – This is the time of year to put our gardens to bed for the winter. First, if you fertilize, use fertilizers high in potassium and low in nitrogen. Late applications of nitrogen fertilizers will stimulate new, soft growth which will die in a freeze. In the flower and vegetable gardens, cut off old flower stalks, and discard any diseased plants. Diseased or insect infested vegetation should always be removed so eggs won’t hatch early and infect your plants next year. If you add the materials to your compost, make sure the pile gets hot enough to kill any bacteria or fungus. If you are unsure, best to put it in the trash or municipal recycling.

After clean up, let your garden air dry for at least a week. After the airing, spread an inch of compost over the garden followed by a loose mulch. You can use mulched leaves, straw or hay (some hay contains weed seeds, so be careful). Mulch is meant to keep the temperatures around your plants even so that soil won’t heave during an early thaw followed by freezing. It also keeps the plants from starting growth too early in the spring. Lay mulch around shallow-rooted plants after the ground freezes. Avoid piling it against trunks or crowns, which can cause rot. If you have a rodent problem where you live, a thick mulch may not be a good idea since the critters love straw and hay winter homes.

Perennials

  • If deer eat your spring-flowering bulbs, plant daffodils, Dutch irises, grape hyacinths, scillas, or puschkinia as deer tend to avoid them.
  • Image by V.J. Matthews via Shutterstock

    Plant tulips and other bulbs until the ground freezes. They need a period of cold weather to produce spring blooms.

    Bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes solid, but the sooner the better so roots have time to develop. Plant them to a depth three times the bulb’s size. If you want continuous blooms, try setting smaller bulbs on top of the larger ones, such as planting tulips deeper and crocuses above.

  • If your perennials are crowded and producing fewer flowers, now is the time to lift and divide them. Use a spading fork to lift clumps, then cut them apart with a knife or saw, ensuring that a couple of buds and some roots are part of each new division.
  • After the frost has killed the foliage of your dahlias, tuberous begonias, and caladiums, dig the clumps and store the tubers. Leave several inches of stem on dahlia tubers since that is where new buds will emerge. Store the bulbs with sphagnum peat moss or vermiculite in a dry cool place.
  • In your water garden, clip the yellow lily pads as the plants become dormant. Don’t allow plant debris to accumulate in the pond as it will rot and emit gases that can harm fish.
  • You can cut back perennials after a hard freeze if you prefer a neat looking bed. However, perennial foliage will hold leaves and snow which gives your perennials extra protection in the winter.

Annuals

  • If you have planted your annuals in pots, when they are finished empty the soil and plants into the compost pile. Don’t plan to reuse the soil. Most likely it’s depleted of nutrients and may harbor diseases and insect pests. Rinse out the pots to remove caked-on soil and salts.
  • 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. Grow in a sunny east or south-facing window or under artificial lights.

Vegetables

  • There is still time to plant garlic in the garden. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves and plant about an inch deep in well-drained soil in an area that receives full sun.
  • As you clean up your garden, remember that some insects and disease spores can survive winter, including rusts, powdery mildew, and early blight on tomatoes. Dispose of infected plants in trash or municipal compost.
  • Tomatoes are best harvested and taken indoors to ripen once the nighttime temperatures drop to 40 degrees.
  • After a light frost, begin harvesting sweetened turnips, parsnips, and other late veggies left in the ground.

    Image by David Kay via Shutterstock

    Turnip and collard “greens,” or leaves, often taste sweeter after a light frost.

  • Dig compost, manure or shredded fall leaves into the vegetable beds.
  • Store garden chemicals and sprays in a place where the temperature won’t go below 40 degrees.

Tree & Shrubs

  • Examine ornamental and fruit trees, shrubs and vines, and prune dead and damaged sections. Dead branches and stems can attract insects and diseases.
  • Rake and remove leaves around aspen trees infected by leaf spot diseases.
  • If you plant trees and shrubs now, they will need watering throughout the cold months. Fall and winter watering is critical on dry, warm days. Remind yourself to water around the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Water early in the day when temperatures are above freezing so moisture will soak in.
  • Cover tender hybrid roses with leaves or straw to protect against winter temperature changes.
  • Keep watering evergreens until the ground freezes. They will continue to draw and store water until the roots are frozen.
  • Plants that keep growing late in autumn, such as rhododendrons, evergreen azalea, boxwood and holly, are susceptible to early freeze damage. They need to be well watered until the ground freezes to protect them from damage.
  • Clean up and remove decaying fruit under your fruit trees since they can harbor pests and disease.
  • From the end of August through October, it is safe to prune oak and walnut trees.
  • Stamp down snow around young trees to prevent rodents from tunneling underneath and chewing on bark.

Lawn/Turf

  • Lawns don’t need to be mowed as much because of shorter days and less sun. Mow as needed until the lawn fully stops growing late in the season.
  • Warm fall weather may cause brown patches in your lawn. Core-aerate these spots as needed, which will allow water to percolate deeper and the grass to green up. Apply an organic lawn fertilizer after the spots are aerated.
  • As leaves fall from deciduous trees, mulch them into the lawn, which saves time and feeds the lawn with organic matter and nutrients.
  • Set your mower blades low for the last time or two of mowing. Leaving the grass long as we enter into winter provides bedding and cover for rodents and can lead to snow mold in the spring.

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