Putting the Garden to Bed

The end of October means that the gardening season almost over for most of us. Yet there are still a few garden chores that remain before you are ready to hang up your shovel for the season. This week I’ve got a checklist of things for you to consider to make sure you are truly done in the garden for this season. Some of these are the regular maintenance items, but some may be things you haven’t considered.

Plant all bulbs now. If you’ve purchased your bulbs but have been waiting to get them in the ground, now is the time to do so. Bulbs can be planted up until the time the ground freezes. Don’t plant them if it’s still warm in your area though- they will get the wrong message and begin to sprout.

Plant trees, shrubs, and perennials now. There’s an old marketing saying, “Fall is for Planting” that never really caught on, but it’s true. Because the ground is still warm from the summer sun, but the air has cooled off, this lessens the transplant shock for nursery stock and perennials. Many things that are planted in the fall will actually have better survival rates than those planted in the spring. When you plant in the spring it’s like putting your feet into a bucket of ice water. Planting at this time of year in warm soil encourages root growth and allows the plant to establish more quickly, while the cooler temperatures minimize stress and water demands.

Plant fall pansies now. These are fabulous plants that many people ignore. Plant them now until whenever the ground freezes in your area, they’ll winter over, and be the first things to bloom in the garden next spring. The more snow we have the better because the snow not only provides moisture, but also insulates them throughout the coldest part of winter. Fall pansies are tough, colorful, and fabulous!

Dig up your gladiolas, dahlias, and other bulbs that you want to store. Put them in a dark, cool place such as a garage, preferably in sawdust which will provide some moisture through the winter to keep them from drying out.

Harvest pumpkins and winter squash now. If you’re tired of zucchini or they’ve finally died, move on to the next squash offering. Winter squash are delicious! You can also plant garlic now.

Cut back dormant perennials. Remove leaves and grass that has accumulated from around the base of all plants in your garden to discourage disease and fungus build up over the winter.

Plant wildflower seeds now. Although it seems odd to plant seeds when it’s starting to freeze, wildflowers planted in the fall actually do quite well.

Do not prune roses, russian sage, or grasses now. Allow them to go dormant then prune them back in the spring. Allowing your grasses to go will provide winter interest as well as act as a haven for birds and other small critters over the winter months.
If you read my column a few weeks ago then you know that it’s also the time to mulch around shrubs and roses. Wrap or put tree protectors around light trunked trees so that they don’t sunburn or get rubbed by deer over the winter.

If you still have access to water, water well one last time, then blow out all irrigation systems so they don’t freeze. Mow grass one last time to a height of 2.5″ then apply Winterizer fertilizer to feed and protect your lawn throughout the winter months.

Begin a winter watering schedule. Even though we often have a good deal of snow, the moisture content is usually low, which means that watering through the winter is imperative for plants survival. An easy way to remember is that, as a rule of thumb, water on each holiday between Halloween and Easter. Water during the warmest part of the day, on a warm day if there is one. Water well and deeply. This is especially critical with newly planted trees (meaning planted within the last year), shrubs, or perennials if you want them to survive.

Finally, if you are planning on purchasing a live Christmas tree, then dig the hole for it now before the ground freezes. You can cover it with plastic of some sort to prevent it from filling in again, but it will be much easier to plant the tree after the holidays if the hole is already prepared.

The time you take now to get your garden in order before putting it to bed will pay big dividends in the spring. In the meantime, enjoy the last warm, sunny days of autumn!