Fall gardening involves preparing plants for winter
Now that we have had our first frost, it is time to appreciate the survivors and to begin preparation for winter. It is also a good time to take notes about our successes and failures of the past season.
In the time between the first frost and a killing frost, we can still enjoy the frost tolerant annuals, and fall blooming mums, asters, ornamental kale and sedums. Cool loving Pansies, Johnny Jumpup Violas, Snapdragons, Alyssum and Pinks really perked up. Petunias, Marigolds, Salvia 'Victoria' and Geraniums hang on for a long time. Coleus, Impatiens and Begonias were the first to go unless they were adequately protected. Some annuals such as Poppies, Cosmos, Alyssum, Cleome and Snapdragons can be allowed to reseed if you wish to fill in spaces next year.
Last year should be a warning to us to prepare well for winter. Snow cover is natural mulch that is so important. When there is none the ground is subject to freeze thaw cycles that are detrimental to plants. In addition, the warmer than normal winter weather probably allowed the topsoil to dry out. Shallow rooted plants are especially vulnerable to these factors and many died or showed stunted growth this year.
We need to supply our own mulch in case Mother Nature does not provide it this winter. Straw and leaves are two materials that work well, but leaves should be shredded with your lawn mower before use. Large leaves tend to mat down and not provide insulation. Wait until the ground has frozen, probably in November. The principle is to keep it frozen, not to hold in warmth. After Christmas, cut up your Christmas tree and lay the branches over perennial beds.
Sanitation is another fall chore. It is best to leave most stems and foliage through winter to catch snow. Mums and Salvia over winter better if the stems are left on. Rudbeckia, Liatris, Coneflower and ornamental grasses are good plants to leave standing for the birds. Some plants must be cut down, especially Iris and Peonies. This year many Daylilies were affected by some kind of disease. While I would usually leave the foliage on to protect the crown, I will be removing it because of this problem. Remove any foliage that has shown disease or insect problems and throw it in the trash. Do not compost it.
Keep watering trees, shrubs, and perennials until the ground freezes. It does not have to be done as often now that the temperature has cooled. Pay special attention to new plantings. You may continue planting deciduous shrubs and some trees as long as the ground is workable. The soil is warm, the temperature cool and they will be all set to go next spring. Finish planting evergreens early in October. Wait until spring for any fertilizing. Store above ground planters in the garage or enclosed porch. Put animal fencing around tree trunks and shrubs and wrap trunks of young trees to prevent sunscald. Gather leaves to protect your roses. Surround them with a four-foot fence before the ground freezes. Stop deadheading and allow rose hips to form. This will signal the plants to harden off for winter. Remove diseased leaves and cut the canes down to 18 inches after a week of freezing temperatures (mid November to early December). Cover with three feet of tightly packed dry leaves. Roses seemed to love the hot dry conditions this year as long as they were base-watered thoroughly. They survived the first frosts and kept on blooming.
Most of my tomatoes are still green. As long as they show some sign of maturing like a greenish-white blossom end they may be ripened indoors at 60 to 65 degrees. Spread them out not touching on heavy paper or wrap individually in newspaper. Carrots may be left in the ground and harvested all winter if you cover them with straw or evergreen branches.
Tuberous Begonia, Caladium, Calla, Canna, and Dahlia bulbs should all be allowed to dry and stored in peat moss at 45 to 50 degrees in a dark place. Gladiolas need to be treated with an insecticidal dust, dried two weeks and stored uncovered. Potted Caladium, Calla and Tuberous Begonias may be moved indoors before a killing frost and treated as houseplants. You may want to save your ornamental sweet potato tubers. Brush off the dirt and store them as you do the other tender bulbs.