By now, most of us have experienced a hard frost, and perhaps a hard freeze too. This doesn’t mean the garden season is over — there are still plenty of jobs that need to be done.
You can still plant. Before the snow falls or the ground freezes, set out bulbs for spring bloom. Although the optimal time for planting tulips and daffodils has passed, if you have some on hand, put them into the ground. They should do fine. Daylilies don’t seem to mind when they are planted and can be set out until the ground freezes. I have planted them in December in the past. And if you missed my almost-weekly reminder, sow seeds of spinach for an early spring harvest.
Cleaning up the garden is important but you might want to leave some plants both for winter interest and for food/shelter for the birds. While some folks like the appearance of a bare garden, I prefer seeing some stalks popping out of the snow. I also like to mulch the garden rather heavily over the winter. This does make the ground slower to warm up in the spring, but if needed, I can always pull back the mulch to allow the ground to warm more quickly.
It’s not yet time to mulch the flowerbeds or strawberry patch. Wait to mulch your perennial bed, your strawberries and your roses until the ground has frozen. You want the mulch to keep the ground cold to prevent frost heave. Mulch with straw, shredded leaves or evergreen boughs. For roses, you can add an 8- to 10-inch mound of soil around the base of hybrid tea roses for extra protection. Be sure and dig your soil from an unused garden area before the ground freezes and store it for use on the roses after they are well frozen in.
If your area hasn’t benefited from some of the fall rains, continue to water trees and shrubs until the ground freezes. This is your best protection against winter injury. Review the past year and any watering problems you may have had. The coming months will be the perfect time to find solutions to a garden that was too wet or too dry.
Collect leaves whenever possible. Leaves add rich nutrients to your soil. Compost them, spread them on the vegetable garden, pile them up and fence them in to create leaf mold or bag them. Bagged leaves can be moistened and left in the sun to produce lovely leaf mold by late spring.
Plan for your passion. While the path of the sun is still fresh in your mind, choose a planting spot for a new crop. Get a bed ready for raspberries, asparagus or strawberries. The first two of these like to be planted as early as possible in the spring, so work up a bed this fall. Mulch well or cover with cardboard for winter protection against weeds.
Standard garden advice says to conduct a germination test on any leftover seeds that you want to plant again this upcoming year. Unfortunately, by the time we are ready to order seed, the 10- to 12-day window necessary for this germination test might make us late to get in our seed order and we might miss the most popular options. Test remaining seeds now. If they pass the test now and are stored in cold, dry conditions over the winter, they should be just fine.
Finally, check your stored produce frequently. It takes only one bad apple to ruin the batch so cull any ones that show signs of decay. Cut out the bad spots and enjoy!
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.