Dirt-y Secrets

Tips for prepping your outdoor space for winter

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

October is transitional. There is lots to do but we will do it in cooler weather. We can get warm, sunny days or frost. And rain, hopefully.  So, be ready. Watch the weather and cover tender plants when frost is predicted. And, remember, there are lots of different weather pockets in Bonner County. If you live higher than 3,500 feet, you’ll likely have earlier frost. You can buy frost cloth or use newspaper or an old sheet. Be prepared.

Now is the time to cut back shrubs, perennials, (peonies, hydrangeas, phlox, for example) and pull out annuals that are finished for the year. Save radical haircuts on trees for early spring, but some shaping is fine. Shrubs can take a more severe cut, depending on the look you want.  

A hibiscus, in all its glory.
Courtesy photo.

Before you put the beds to bed, remove weeds and use mulch for protection against cold and wind. Straw is good, but leaves tend to turn to a slimy mess come spring. It helps to run over leaves and break them up with the lawn mower. Grass clippings will do, but they usually contain quite a few weeds. Don’t use herbicides; birds and insects are counting on you to keep them safe from poisons.

When the weather turns colder, move tender plants and houseplants inside — spray with organic insecticide soap first so that the outdoor critters don’t come and make a home in your indoor plants.

Save your favorite seeds for next year. Be sure they are dry before storing and a paper envelope is best. They tend to mold in plastic. Cosmos, zinnias, hollyhocks, marigolds are some that have seeds that are easy to save and very viable. Make sure they are kept dry. 

This is a transition month for birds and bees, too. Leave their favorites in the ground until activity stops. Birds are either getting ready for long flights or fattening up for the winter. Bees are getting ready to overwinter and need sustenance. If you have a bird feeder, September is a good time to start stocking it for our year round birds. Next year, plan to plant more bird/bee friendly varieties. Bee balm, all the mints, cosmos, sunflowers. Also, milkweed for monarch butterflies. 

As I have mentioned before, I love mason bees. They pollinate like crazy, don’t sting and don’t make honey. They are “easy keepers.” Since July, my bee eggs have been sleeping in their houses in my garage. They have been busy making cocoons . It is now time to take the cocoons out of their bee houses and store them for the winter. I put the cleaned cocoons in my refrigerator crisper for the winter. Yep, right there in the crisper (in a little bee humidifier). You must check them periodically to be sure they stay moist but otherwise, as I said, “easy keepers.” More on bees in April. 

Quick note: If you are interested in mason bees, they need early bloomers to feed. Fruit trees are usually too late so I find crocus to be a good early spring blossom for bees. You need to plant them soon for April bloom and near where you plan to put your mason bee house. East side seems ideal because they need morning sun to wake up and afternoon shade to stay cool.  

October is the best time to plant bulbs but November works too, provided the soil is workable. Remember, deer love tulips. Don’t plant them where deer can reach them. The same is true for lilies, except daylilies. Deer don’t usually eat daffodils but will if they are hungry enough. Now is also the time to lift dahlia and gladiolus bulbs. You must keep them from freezing all winter. After I pull up my glads, I just bury the bulbs in dry soil or straw. No need to cut the tops off but do keep them absolutely dry. Garages are ideal. Dahlias are trickier and I admit I am not an expert here. But you can google dahlia care and get the scoop.   

Tip Recap: watch the weather for frost; trim trees and shrubs, but not too much; save seeds; weed and mulch; plant bulbs; care for birds and bees; lift and store gladiolus and dahlia bulbs.

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