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A farewell to the garden, now is the time for fall maintenance

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November is a non-descript month. The autumn color is gone, the vegetables have been harvested and flowers are but a memory. It is time to hang up the hoe and put away the mower. You were tired of mowing anyway. Perhaps you didn't get everything done that you had in mind, but some things will just have to wait until next year.

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Since I took off a month to visit my family in California, I have much left undone. Before leaving, I dug up, labeled and stored dahlia bulbs and put my water lilies in a dark closet. I did not dig up the Cannas as they were still blooming. I am hoping that the tubers are not frozen so that I can save them for next year. I doubt that any geraniums are left alive. Last fall I pulled them, shook off the soil and stored them in the darkest, coolest spot in my basement. After I potted and watered them this spring several re-grew into nice plants. If you have good light in your house, you can keep container geraniums and spikes inside all winter long. When you bring them (or any other plant that was outside) in you should keep it separate from other plants until you are sure they are insect free. It is a good idea to hang yellow sticky cards around these plants to trap aphids and mites.

I imagine that my lawn is covered with a foot of leaves (hopefully not snow). I need to rake them up and heap them on my roses. The last lawn mowing should be a half inch shorter than it was cut all summer, which makes it 1 ½ inches. This helps prevent matting under the snow. Fall is a good time to over-seed and fertilize your lawn.

Most gardening experts advise leaving healthy perennials standing over winter. The stems increase hardiness and trap snow for added insulation and the seeds provide food for birds. Iris and peonies are two exceptions. I cut back my iris before I left, but I will need to slice off all the peony stems at ground level when I return to prevent the fungal disease Botrytis. All dead annual flower and vegetable debris needs to be removed and fruits and berries picked up and discarded. Do not cut perennial grasses down in the fall. They are more vigorous in the spring if left alone over winter.

Although you may prune dead branches from trees and shrubs at this time it is best to wait until spring for most of the pruning. Maples and Birches should be pruned in midsummer to prevent bleeding and you have to wait until after bloom for spring flowering shrubs.

Gradually reduce watering deciduous shrubs and trees so that you do not encourage tender new growth. Evergreens need heavy watering as close to freezing as possible. They lose moisture from their needles through sun and wind exposure. Don't worry that your evergreens have dropped brown and yellow needles in the fall. This is a natural occurrence called 'seasonal needle drop'.

Protect young trees with plastic tree guards or other tree wraps to keep sunscald from damaging and even killing them. Keep the critters from chewing the bark and stems with wire mesh or fencing. During the winter shovel or blow snow onto them for more insulation.

Just as you care for your mower in the fall, you should also clean and oil your garden tools. Bring containers into the garage if you can, to keep them from winter damage. At least turn them upside down so that they don't collect water that will freeze and expand causing them to crack. Garden structures and statuary are good for winter interest if they can stand up to the elements. However, they are not attractive if you have to cover them with tarps so try to store them in a shelter.

Relax and enjoy your winter respite.

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