Once the calendar page turns to October, gardeners know that the end of the growing season is near. Perhaps your area has even experienced a killing frost already. If not, it will be coming soon. It’s time to get busy and double-down on getting the garden ready for winter.
Clean up the garden. As plants fade, pull them and compost the healthy ones and dispose of the diseased ones. Pick up dropped tomatoes, peppers, beans, apples, pears, etc. as they can provide a winter home for insects and diseases. Get rid of the weeds. Digging and pulling all of the weeds that seem to sprout in the fall may prove a difficult task. If so, cutting them down is a good substitute for digging and at least it gets the weed seeds out of the garden. I like to cover my bare garden soil with a layer of old hay or straw over the winter as it provides a weed-free area ready for planting come spring.
In the flower bed, a few plants prefer to remain standing all winter long. The new shoots of Russian sage grow on last year’s wood and the seed stalks of purple coneflower and phlox are a favorite food for birds. Before clear-cutting the flowerbed, check to see if some of your plants should be left standing. As a general rule, if the stalks turn mushy, the plant should be cut back.
Harvest: As long as your plants are producing, remember to keep the harvest fresh. It doesn’t take long for a zucchini to go from tiny and tender to baseball bat size. If your zukes do get that big, save them. They store quite well at room temperature for several months. If you got in a fall crop of lettuce or have an ongoing plot of kale or sorrel, harvest until the plants have died back in a heavy freeze. By now the potato plants should have died back so be sure to harvest all of those spuds.
Store: Potatoes, carrots and some varieties of cabbage all store exceptionally well. Potatoes benefit from a curing period of several days in a dry area out of the sunshine. This heals any scrapes or cuts that may allow rot to set in. Late-season apples also store exceedingly well, especially if you wrap each apple individually in newspaper. Although this sounds like a tedious chore, the process actually goes rather quickly and solves the problem of one rotten apple causing the whole bushel to go bad.
Dig: Canna and calla lilies, dahlias, caladium and gladioli, as well as other tender bulbs, will need to be dug and stored before the ground freezes. This task sounds more daunting than it actually is. If you have a lot of bulbs, do a few every day.
Protect: Pay attention to the weather and after the ground freezes, protect your roses and strawberries with some version of shelter for the winter. Strawberries do well under a layer of straw and roses like to be covered with layers of dirt or even a ventilated cone. Wrap tender trees and shrubs to guard against harsh winter winds or the nibbles of wildlife.
Plant: It’s not too late. Plant a row or three of spinach or lettuce and see how well it survives the winter. Plant spring-blooming bulbs of tulips, daylilies or crocus. Few things beat the joy of planting a garden so don’t skip this fall event.
The list of chores may be long, and all are rather important. But again, I offer the caveat: Do what you can and that will be good enough.
Beverly Carney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.