In the late autumn, many gardeners become anxious to put the garden to bed. They often rush this important step or over look it entirely. This is not always a good idea. For example, many gardeners hill up or mulch their roses before the ground has a frozen crust. This means the ground will stay warmer allowing your roses to grow into early winter. This makes them more likely to be winter killed. On the other hand Freshly planted or divided lily bulbs are given a thick mulch of straw in October.
Garlic is planted in well cultivated organic rich soil on the full moon in November four to six inches apart two to four inches down. The Garlic is then mulched with straw. It is this procedure that is used to allow your autumn planted Garlic to grow and establish itself in November and December. So used properly mulching is the right procedure. Strawberries after being trimmed down are then mulched with straw for winter protection and to give them a good start in the spring. Tender perennials are mulched as well after the ground has become crusty with frost. This is very important where the snow cover is not consistent throughout the winter. The lack of snow as an insulator exposes the tender perennials to the ill effects of the wind. The wind in the winter dries out the foliage and drops the temperatures possibly to killing lows. Perennials that over winter as a basal clump can be surrounded with straw mulch. Examples of these plants are Rudbeckia; Black Eyed Susan and Echinacea; Purple Coneflower. Mulching does have its problems. It is a perfect home to over wintering insects and mollusks. It is a trade off and gardeners will set their own priorities. Using the leaves from the deciduous trees can also have its problems. They can mat and suffocate small plants and spread diseases like Tar Spot and Tree Mildew.
In the autumn there is an over abundance of raw garden waste you can change into black gold. Simply by running your lawn mower repeatedly through your fallen leaves to speed up their rate of decomposition. Remember to add equal amounts of green grass clipping to your brown shredded leaves in your compost pile. Do not put into the compost weed seeds, diseased plant parts, Walnut tree parts, meat, bones and fat. Finish off your compost pile with a cap one to two inches thick of one of the following; compost, garden soil, or composted manures
Not all weeds over winter as seed. Those that do are hard to control at this time of year. They are best controlled by diligent removal throughout the growing season. Perennial weeds can be removed by hand at this time of year and even if you do not get the entire root, it may winter kill. The best weeds to control at this time of year are those classified as Winter Annuals. Winter Annuals germinate in the early autumn and over winter as a young plants which will flower and seed very quickly in the early spring. So run out, cultivate, and weed your gardens with great care in the autumn.
Vegetables & Flower Beds
After the frost has killed your flowers and vegetables you should remove diseased or insect infested plants. These should go out to the garbage not to the compost. The beds should be dug up or rototilled to remove paths and alleviate compaction. Compost or composted manures can be rototilled in if your soil is in great need of organic material. The usual procedure is to add the compost or composted manures over the top of the freshly dug beds and leave them that way until the springtime preplanting soil preparation. My favourite compost for the garden is Nutrite’s turkey litter product because while adding organic mater it has a 1-2-1 fertilizer content where as your composted manures are less than 1-1-1 fertilizer content. Clean plant material can be chopped up and dug or rototilled in as well. If there is a large amount of organic material to be worked in you can dig a trench put it in there and chop it up add a small amount of fertilizer and cover.
As the weather continues to get colder it becomes increasingly difficult to control your turf grass weeds by chemical means. As a result, weed control using chemicals should be done in early autumn. Later in the season, hand control is the best. Where there is not a consistent snow cover your turf grass is slowly cut lower and lower until the last cutting which is one and a quarter to one and half inches high. If you live in an area where consistent snow cover is the norm, then you will slowly cut your turf grass shorter to a height of one to one and a quarter inches. Remember you should always follow the rule: never remove more than one third of the leaf area at one cutting. After the final cut and the ground has a frozen crust, it is time to fertilize for the last time. Apply at the recommended rate a high nitrogen fertilizer such as 21-7-7. For the last few years, it has been around Christmas that I was able to get this procedure accomplished.
Summer bulbs have different tolerances to cold and frost. Tuberous Begonias are lifted before a hard frost occurs while the Common Canna Lilies are usually lifted after they have been frosted. Gladiolas are lifted after a light frost. The storage of these summer flowering bulbs is also different. The Tuberous Begonias are lifted gently washed, allowed to surface dry, dusted with a soil and bulb dust, and stored in barely moist peat moss or vermiculite in a cool dark place. The Common Canna Lily is lifted washed of with a stiff spray. Do not pull the soil off and if the soil is trapped between the rhizomes leave it. Allow the rhizomes to dry in the sun for several days. Store them in baskets either loose but better yet upside down in baskets of barely moist peat moss or dry vermiculite after dusting them with soil and bulb dust. Place the baskets in a cool dark place. The Gladiolas are lifted the stocks and loose skins are removed. The corms are dusted with soil and bulb dust placed in onion bags (open mesh bags) in a warm dry dark place. You must check your Summer Bulbs in storage about every two weeks to remove rotting bulbs and thrips on your Gladiolas.
You can protect your trees and shrubs from mice and rabbits in the winter by spraying with a repellant such as Ropelle® or place plastic tree guards around the trunks of the young susceptible trees. There are similar products for deer such as Deer Off® or you can hang bars of the smelliest soap you can find all the way around the outer lower branches of your trees. I have heard that Irish Spring or Zest are good for this purpose.
You must weigh the pro and cons of cutting down your ornamental grasses and perennials in the Autumn against their winter interest or the disease and insect over wintering sites they create. It is your call. I leave mine up. Make a plan for your garden clean up. This will avoid doing the different procedures to soon or all at one time. Autumn is an awesome gardening season to be enjoyed not rushed unless Mother Nature forces you to rush them.