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Putting the Garden to Bed

10/26/2015 10:35 am

I in my scarf and Mom in her cap had just settled the garden in for a long winter’s nap.  When from the garden shed there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the perennial bed to see what was the matter.  When what to my wondering eye should appear but bushy tailed squirrel with eyes so shiny and black, he was packing away acorns and seeds in old planters rack.

            The squirrel and I both knew fall was giving way to winter and the only thing we could do was get ready for the long cold months ahead. He was storing acorns, nuts and seeds.  I was harvesting the last of the winter squash and beets and cleaning and pruning the vegetable garden and perennial beds. 

Late fall is such a great time to go through the gardens to get them ready for the winter as well as evaluating the status and condition of the various landscape plantings.  The list of fall garden chores includes: pruning, weeding, mulching, and installing weather protection for vulnerable specimens.

After the leaves have fallen from deciduous trees and shrubs it is a good time to inspect those plants for branches that may have been damaged by summer storms and to then prune the branch to prevent further damage.  Late fall through early spring pruning allow the plant’s wound (the freshly cut area) to dry and carry less risk of attracting harmful insects and pathogens.  Pruning or removing diseased branches or plants from the garden also helps to remove the pathogens and prevent a more extensive outbreak when the temperatures warm up in the spring.  While broken braches can be put through a chipper or cut into small pieces and placed in the compost.  Diseased branches and leaves should be burned or put in the trash to remove the pathogen from the garden entirely.  Another aspect of fall pruning is general shaping or training of the respective plant specimen.  Branches that are growing awry can be pruned back to maintain the balance and shape of the plant or to remove limbs that brushing against buildings or growing into vital sight lines.

This is also a great time to remove those rogue perennial weeds that have very happily set up house keeping in the back of the beds where they are easily missed during the primary growing season.  Weeds with tap roots like burdock, horse dock, and the ever infamous dandelion can be easily and very effectively removed from the garden by cutting the root several inches below the soil line and removing the leaves and top portion of the root system. This is also when you want to be on the look out for winter weeds like chickweed, speedwell, and ground ivy.  These little creepers only grow an inch or two in height but can cover large areas in thick dense mats. These are called winter weeds because they continue to grow long after other more respectable garden residents have gone dormant and will lay in wait for the first warm breeze of spring to begin flowering and producing thousands of seeds for the next generation of uninvited garden groundcovers.

Fall and winter mulches are typically more protective than decorative.  Chopped leaves from healthy trees, straw, and pine needles all make wonderful fall and winter mulches.  Plants with low graft unions such as hybrid tea roses benefit from having a think layer of one of the above mulches added around their base to protect the graft from harsh freezes and extreme temperature swings.  Plants like strawberries that are prone to heaving during the freeze and thaw cycles of our winters benefit greatly from being put to rest with a nice thick (3-5”) blanket of straw.  Heaving is when the ground freezes and expands pushing the plant up and then thaws and settles back down; exposing the root crown to freezing temperatures and drying winter winds.

Lastly, some of the stars (or divas – depending on your view point) of the garden may need additional protection to get through the harshest elements of our winter.  Many broadleaf evergreens will benefit from an application of a foliar spray like Wiltproof® or a simple burlap screen to prevent the leaves from drying out or ‘burning’ during the gusts and gales of winter winds.

As ‘Bright Eyes’ the squirrel scurried off for another acorn and I returned to the perennial border to finish tucking the garden in for the winter.  I began to day dream of my own long winters nap and took comfort in knowing the garden would ready welcome back the first robin of spring.