Putting the garden to bed…
By: Joe Stitt
Garden Designer @ Moon Brothers Landscaping
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.
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
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
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.