Despite the cooler days, most gardeners still want to be outside doing what they love. Although the growing season is over, there are a few garden chores left to do. You can snatch up these final bouts of warmth and sunlight before you curl up next to the wood stove for the winter.
First, clean up vegetable and flowerbeds. Fill the compost pile with any leftover plant material. Be sure to burn or properly dispose of any weeds or diseased plants. If you compost that material, it will only cause problems next spring.
Now that beds are clear you can see where there might be holes or empty spots. Fall is the best time to divide perennials; it encourages new growth and provides you with free plants. It’s also the perfect opportunity to move any flowers or shrubs not performing well or not fitting in their old location. Check with your neighbors or local garden society to see if anyone wants to trade divided plants with you.
The stalks of many perennials provide texture and color for the winter garden, so don’t be too quick to cut back everything. Leave late blooming composites to provide a fall food source for migrating birds.
Perennials needing a trim should be cut four to six inches above the soil. Save heavy pruning of most shrubs until early spring to encourage new growth. A prolonged warm fall can force pruned shrubs and bushes to put on a final push of new growth. This can result in breakage or even freezing and loss of the plant. Let the plant acclimate itself to the changing seasons.
Fall is a good time to mulch gardens. Add soil to depleted beds, mixing in some compost and leaves to mound around the base of individual plants. In areas with severe winters, wrap tender plants in burlap and secure that with a good pile of dirt to ward off damaging freeze and thaw cycles.
Once all the actual work in the gardens is over, give your tools some tender loving care. Sharpen blades and oil them against rust. Sand wooden handles and apply a coat of varnish. Thoroughly drain water hoses and coil them in a shed or garage. Run a thicker grade of oil through any mowers and then drain the gas. Pull the batteries and cover the machines.
Now you’re ready to enjoy the winter, sitting by the fire perusing gardening catalogs.
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