October already! This month marks the end of the garden season for most of us, so focus on being in the garden as much as possible until wintry weather forces you inside. There’s still lots of work to be enjoyed.
Harvest as much as possible, using excess vegetables in soups or pickled medleys. Save light green tomatoes and let them ripen away from the sun in normal room temperatures. Save those misshapen or damaged apples and convert their good parts into cider or sauce. Wrap those perfect apples individually in newspaper for optimal storage in a cool location. This takes surprisingly little time and makes a huge difference in storage life. Store pears in the refrigerator, bringing them out a few at a time to soften at room temperature. Fall-bearing raspberries should produce until frost and any excess is easily frozen.
If you still have potatoes and carrots in the ground, dig them now. Potatoes need a week or so to cure, spread out in a warm, dry location out of the sun. Store them for winter in a cool, dark location. Potatoes with a green skin can be stored and then trimmed of any green spots before cooking. Remember, if your crop was disease-free this year, you can save some spuds to use as seed potatoes for next spring’s garden.
Cleanup is important to prevent disease next year. Pick up any fallen fruit from the base of trees and remove diseased plant residue from the garden. I like to leave healthy plant residue in place so its nutrients return to the soil. In the flowerbed, snip off the seed heads of any perennials that you don’t want to spread. Pull spent annuals but consider leaving some perennial stalks to provide seed for the birds and to also help capture the snowfall for winter protection and spring moisture.
Can your garden be too clean? I think so, particularly in the flower bed. Some plants, such as Russian sage, need at least 6 inches of last year’s stalks to generate new growth in the spring. Other perennials and biennials develop basal formations, the origins of next season’s plants. Just as leaving asparagus ferns standing helps trap snow for insulation and spring moisture, leaving some perennial growth helps preserve the plants. Standing flower stalks also provide seeds for the birds. Goldfinches adore coneflower seeds and chickadees flock to phlox seed heads. For an interesting take on reasons to leave your garden somewhat messy over the winter, see http://tinyurl.com/y92xqeee. There’s even a movement to get you to pledge to be a lazy gardener this fall, http://tinyurl.com/ycx9d6pe.
Perhaps the best money-saver is keeping your plants watered. Small trees and shrubs are preparing for winter and need regular watering to help them get through the brutal weather ahead. Give the plants a regular soaking until the ground freezes. Be sure there is no mulch up around the base of trees and shrubs. For younger trees, add a tall circle of hardware cloth to protect against rabbits and rodents gnawing the bark.
Be prepared to mulch when the ground freezes. Roses and strawberries can suffer severe damage if not mulched for the winter. Be prepared to cover the rose plants with mounds of soil. For strawberries, you will want to mulch with loose straw or shredded leaves, but not until the ground has frozen.
After the frost knocks them back, remember to dig and store temperature-sensitive bulbs and corms of dahlias, gladiolus, canna lilies and other sensitive bulbs. Light frosts enhance the flavor of broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts, so let them grow until a hard freeze wipes them out.
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.