Just because the gardens are slowing down doesn’t mean the season is over! There is much to do the next couple of months to assure a beautiful yard and gardens next year. Taking care of plants now will make them healthier and sturdier to withstand the frozen months ahead.
Mow and rake after the first frost. Put the clippings in a compost pile. If you don’t have one, give them to someone who does, or take them to your municipal composting center, if there is one.
Rake up leaves and compost them. Alternatively, go over them with your mower to use as mulch and compost. They will add nutrients to the soil. Don’t leave whole leaves on the ground. They will get packed down and smother your grass.
When you are raking, be sure to get up the dead grass matted on the soil. This is called thatch, and it can cause disease, and will keep nutrients, water and air from getting into the soil.
Do a pH test. If the soil is acidic add lime at the recommended rate. It will take all winter to break down and be of use, so it’s important to do it in fall. Apply a winterizing fertilizer with less nitrogen and more phosphorus and potassium.
Pull out dead annuals and compost them. Clean up dead debris from perennials. Both these actions keep down disease. It’s personal choice about cutting perennials back to the ground. I like to leave the flower stalks up for winter. Birds eat the seeds, and the plants offer visual interest in a snowy landscape.
Plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, crocus and muscari. Dig up tender bulbs such as dahlias and gladiolas. Clean them off, dry for a few days in a warm spot, and store in a cool place until planting time next spring.
Pull weeds and drain the irrigation system. After the ground is frozen, cover beds with compost and about 4” of mulch to keep plants from heaving in a mid-winter thaw.
Pull up and compost spent plants. If they were diseased or if you had bug infestations, throw away the debris to reduce problems next year.
Another personal choice is tilling in fall. I do not, but I do cover all the beds with compost and/or straw mulch. Compost is for nutrients, and the straw is to protect the soil from the elements.
Tilling can freeze out overwintering bugs to reduce their numbers next year. It can also expose weed seeds that need to be protected for germination. I prefer to turn the soil with a pitchfork in late winter to the same effect.
You can seed a cover crop to act as winter mulch. In spring, it gets tilled in when it is fresh and green for high-density nutrients and humus.
Thoroughly clean off your hand tools (shovels, rakes, hoes, etc), and oil the surfaces before putting them in your shed or garage. Drain and coil your hoses, and drain your underground irrigation system.
Just like you would take care of a car that is going to sit all winter, take care of your small engine equipment (mowers, weed whackers, tillers). Do an oil change, check and replace the air filters, and remove the fuel or add a fuel stabilizer. Sharpen blades and lubricate the bearings. Get them ready to go in spring!
While you are playing with tools, get out your snow shovels and snow blowers! Make sure they are in prime shape before the first storm.
Make plans for next year
Over the winter, think about what made this a great gardening year and what could be improved. You have months to read gardening books, pour over seed catalogs, doodle, dream, and prepare for more fun and experimentation next year! The garden season never really ends….