Gardening in Late Fall: A Checklist
As we move into winter in the northern hemisphere, it’s time to put the yard and gardens to bed. Some preparation now will make your plants stronger and healthier in the spring. You will also have less work to do when the new season begins.
See to shrubs and trees
In colder climates, you can plant trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials into November. They will spend the rest of fall taking up the moisture deep in the soil and establishing root systems.
Cut back plants killed by frost, and compost them. If you leave them on or till them into the soil, they may transmit disease. The best thing is to remove them. A hot compost pile will kill any pathogens.
I like to leave some seed heads for birds to nibble on over the winter. Sunflowers, hollyhocks and some groundcovers keep the songbirds hanging around to entertain me! Flower stalks are also pretty when snow collects on them. They create visual interest in a field of snow cover. Cut some dried flower stalks to bring in for a flower arrangement or to use in a wreath.
Enrich the soil
Once the soil is frozen, add a 6” layer of mulch or compost. You can alternatively put down compost with straw mulch over it. The purpose is to let nutrients slowly release into the soil for the plants to take in spring when the soil thaws. The soil has to be frozen, though, otherwise plants and bulbs will heave out of the soil in a freeze/thaw cycle and ruin the root systems. Since we can’t depend on snow cover and cold temperatures anymore, we need to protect our plants more than ever.
Where I live in the high desert, we have to water all winter depending on snowfall and snow cover. When I lived in New England, this was not the case. Contact your county extension office to find out if your yard needs winter watering.
Spend the rest of the winter planning next year’s gardens. Hopefully you kept a garden journal of successes and failures. Grab a cup of tea, sit by the fire, and dream of and plan next year’s growing season.
Fall gardening in southern climates
If you live in a warm climate, you can plant! In the southern US tier from California to Florida, summer is too hot for gardening. Plants slow down or go dormant and get revitalized with the cool weather of fall. One winter in Tucson, I planted kale, spinach and lettuces in a raised bed. I had fresh food all winter! I cannot do that in northern New Mexico without a greenhouse.
The weather has cooled down, but the soil is still warm. Seeds will germinate in the ground and produce all winter. The short days will slow production, but the garden will still grow.
Cool weather crops are best – lettuce, chard, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, carrots, onions, radishes, cauliflower, peas. Read seed catalogs to determine your zone. Planting instructions for each vegetable or fruit will be given in the descriptions.
Gardening, planting, color, and life!
Ornamentals should provide color! Pansies, calendula, snapdragons, sweet peas and stock are colorful and aromatic garden additions. Many rock garden plants will thrive in the southern states. Heath, winter jasmine and ornamental kale are other fragrant, visually interesting choices.
In Tucson, bougainvillea vines are in bloom all winter, colorful and interesting bright pink flowers draped around entryways and climbing up walls. I have seen flowers blooming in February on the central California coast, too. There IS life in the winter months!
Gardening all year round
No matter where you live, there is gardening to be done this time of year! Either put your babies to bed or plant new ones. If you travel back and forth between the two climates, like I did for so many years, you have the best of both worlds. Take advantage of it and enjoy!