By Laurie Brown
It’s official: October is here, the leaves are turning, the geese are honking in the sky and plants are dying back. Time to put the garden to bed for the winter.
In the vegetable garden, pick all tomatoes (yes, even the green ones), peppers, green beans, squash and eggplants. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower can stay out a little longer (but get them in before a *hard* freeze). Leave carrots, parsnips, and chard until hard freeze is predicted. Alternatively, heavily mulch carrots and parsnips with straw to keep the ground from freezing. When you want carrots in winter, you can move the straw aside and pull them up. Pull up and compost all the old vegetable plants.
Pull all annual flowers and compost them. Lift tender perennials — dahlias, gladiolas, callas, cannas and others — and store in a frost-free area. Put planters and pots — especially terra cotta ones — under shelter so they don’t fill with water and freeze, or turn them upside down. Put all healthy leaves in the compost pile, but any plant parts that have fungus or other disease should be sent to the landfill or burned. Remove dead leaves from perennials, but leave any seed heads standing to feed the birds over winter. If the perennials are still green come the end of October, cut them down anyway. Keep weeding: The weeds are still making root growth and trying to set seeds and disperse them. The more of them you get stopped now, the fewer weeds you’ll have come spring. Do not mulch perennials until after the ground freezes. You want the ground to stay frozen, rather than freezing and thawing, which can push plants, especially recently planted ones, right out of the ground. This also ensures the plants stay dormant until the proper time. Plant spring blooming bulbs.
Drain and pick up hoses. Insulate hose bibs if they are not drain back/frost free types. Pick up, clean and oil garden tools. Pour gas out of lawn mowers, weed whackers and rototillers and store out of the weather.
If the weather continues to be as dry as it’s been, give trees (and shrubs) a good, long drink. They need to go into winter well hydrated, and what nature is giving this fall so far isn’t enough for them to be healthy. Evergreens are the most important, but even trees that have lost their leaves can still take water up (and lose it in dry winter winds).
It’s a lot to do. If you don’t have enough time, the most important tasks are probably keeping things watered, getting the tender perennials stored and taking care of your planters, hoses and tools, both power and hand. The dead stuff can be picked up in spring, as long as you get it before or just as new growth starts. If you miss a few tomatoes, it’s not that much of a loss, and you’re probably hoping the squash plants will get frosted soon, anyway. Mulching is the last thing that happens in the garden, and if we have another La Nina winter, we won’t need much of it. We can hope, right?