Even though the end of our short summer is reached in September, there is still much to take care of in our gardens. Make notes about which plants worked and which didn’t and plan accordingly for next year. After final tilling, winterize all of your power equipment. Clean and sharpen hand tools. Add a light spray of WD40 to shovels, pruners, rakes, and tiller tines, if you are retiring them until next season. Install a “windbreak” to protect plants from winter winds. Drain and store rain barrels and hoses to prevent freezing. Reassess your 2012 lawn and consider incorporating native grass seeds for next year’s turf. Enjoy browsing through every seed catalog you can find and plan next year’s garden. Keep your camera handy to document the seasonal color changes.
Vegetables and Berries
- Damage from a light frost can be prevented by frost covers. This helps the crops as they go into a period of dormancy before a hard freeze.
- Till compost into heavy, compacted soil. This will be helpful in warming the soil in the spring. (More organic material may be added then when the soil is prepared for planting.)
- Prune raspberries, currants, gooseberries and other berry bushes. Remove old canes, thin overgrown areas, prune and remove any damaged, dead or diseased parts. Cut back branches that are too close to the ground or too long.
- Options for ripening green tomatoes indoors: Place them on a sunny window, blossom side down. If you prefer, wrap individual green tomatoes in newspaper and layer them in a box, no more than 2 layers deep, in a dark, dry spot. It usually takes 3-4 weeks for the green tomatoes to ripen but check frequently and remove any fruits that show signs of rotting. Or place the green tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripe apple. The apple gives off ethylene gas, which speeds up ripening. Check the bag daily. Image above: Flickr, S. Kopyshev
- Wait for a hard freeze before harvesting Brussels Sprouts.
- Store winter squash in a cool, sheltered shady spot for about 1 month. Once you have picked the “Kabocha” squash, allow it to ripen for 1 – 3 months. This will create an incredible sweetness. Unlike potatoes, Kabocha is ripened in a warm place (77 °F) for 2 weeks to allow some of the starch to convert to sugar. Then, transfer it to a cool place (50 °F) and store for a month to increase the carbohydrate content. If eaten right after harvest, it is a dry, bland-tasting squash. Allow it some time off of the vine and you’ll have a Kabocha that will rival a butternut squash / sweet potato for flavor.
- Potatoes are stored cool (between 35 – 39 degrees) to keep them from sprouting. After months in storage, potatoes will become sweet because while they are dormant much of the starch is converted into sugar. Potatoes do this to protect against from cold damage. The increase in sugar levels causes darkening. When you are almost ready to use them, store in the dark at room temperature for up to a week, and the sugar will be converted back to starch and the original color will return.
- If you have a “hoop” house, remove and store panels to protect them against heavy snow accumulation. Numbering your panels will make reconstruction easier during warmer weather. The hoop house will help get a jump on our growing season.
- Have your frost covers ready when you hear of an early frost.
- Mark your perennial locations before you finish cleaning out all flower beds.
- Finish dividing hardy perennials. Add layer of mulch to insulate perennials from chilling temperatures. The mulch will help slow down temperature fluctuations, and conserve moisture.
- If planting fall bulbs, be sure that the soil is well drained. This time of year allows for good root development, so that the bulb can pop up as soon as spring soil conditions allow. (We’ll pull back the mulch in spring to allow the sun to warm the soil.)
- Dig and store tender bulbs such as dahlias, caladiums, cannas and tuberous begonias.
- Before you bring in the last of your houseplants, water and spray them with a mild, soapy water, to remove hitchhiking pests. (Pay close attention to projected frost dates.)
- Clean and dry, prior to safely storing, your decorative and terracotta pots.
- Bring in and clean small pots and trays for starting next year’s seeds.
Trees and Bushes
- Before the ground freezes, keep evergreen and deciduous shrubs well-watered and mulched. Plants can lose water even during dormancy. Insufficient moisture, frozen ground, and wind can result in drying and/or “winter kill.”
- Tender roses (our floribundas, grandifloras, hybrid teas and miniature roses) do not survive winters across Zone 1-2, and are often treated as annuals. Gardeners motivated to grow tender roses here can try to overwinter them in cool, dark locations (temperature between 35 and 40 degrees). It is better to treat roses as an annual and buy new plants every spring if you do not have a good spot for overwintering them.
- Prune your hardy roses for the last time this year.
- If you have a strong, young nut tree, prune it to eliminate branches within 8 feet of the ground, and maintain one central trunk.
- Wrap thin-barked trees to protect them from winter “sun scald.” The moisture content within the tree freezes and is prone to deep cracking when the sun warms it. This can be very threatening to young trees.
- Look up! If you see distressed tree canopies, call in an arborist to assess the situation. Remember that it is always easier to repair a garden than to replace an established tree.