Now that fall has arrived and we have hit some very cold temperatures at night, it is time to clean up our gardens for the winter. Some things should be done this fall, but some can be left until spring. Here are a few things to do now to put your gardens to bed.
Annual flowers can be cleaned up in fall because they die with a freeze. Perennials are best left standing until spring but some can be cleaned up now. It is nice to leave the plants over the winter for added interest and to provide food to birds.
Plants such as roses and butterfly bushes that have hollow stems should be left standing and not pruned back until next spring. Precipitation can get into the hollow stems and freeze and thaw through the winter, which could crack the plant crown and lead to death. Leaving plants standing through winter will protect plants with hollow stems or with moderate hardiness to our zone. If you do chose to leave your perennial plants over the winter, be sure to wait until we are past our last spring frost before removing the plant material next spring, even if the plants green up underneath. The plant material does act as insulation and if removed too soon the plant will be more exposed to late winterkill.
If removing plant material this fall, wait until it turns brown and replenish mulch to protect it over the winter. Mulch can be added up to 4-6 inches over the winter months, reduce back to 2-3 inches deep during the growing season.
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People often think about pruning trees in fall. However, this isn’t the best time of the year to prune them. The optimum time for tree pruning is April, May, or June because at this time the tree can seal up the wound quickly while it is actively growing. If your tree needs to be pruned this fall, wait until the leaves have fallen from the tree to allow the tree to go completely dormant before pruning. If you are pruning an oak tree, the dormant period is the best time for pruning to avoid damage from oak wilt. Pruning evergreen shrubs is best done after they are fully dormant to avoid damage from winter injury. As for flowering shrubs, if it blooms in the spring, prune it after it blooms. If the shrub blooms in the summer, bloom in the late winter such as in February and March.
Now that our vegetable plants have died due to cold weather, it is time to clean up the garden. If any of your plants had disease or insect issues this summer, it is best to remove those plants and destroy them, don’t compost them. This will reduce the chance of seeing the problem again next year. Also, removing the plants from the garden at the end of the season will remove the overwintering site for insects found in the garden. Cleaning tomato cages and fences upon removal will also help remove the disease spores from the garden for next year.
After removing the plants, you may want to till your garden. If you plan to add fresh manure to your garden, that should be added in the fall rather than in the spring. So you can till your garden, add manure, and till it again to incorporate the manure into your garden soil for reduced compaction and improved organic matter content. If you till in the fall, add a layer of mulch to the garden to keep the soil from blowing off site during the winter. Grass clippings from a lawn that wasn’t treated with herbicides this year make a great mulch for the winter. You can till that back into the soil next spring before planting again.