Temperatures are finally cooling down, and your garden is now more of a pleasure and less of a chore. Even though most of the time-consuming work is in the past, there is still some essential tasks that must be done to ensure a successful spring. Let's get started.
If you live in high elevation areas, rain and possibly frost have begun, and watering is no longer required. In other regions adjusting your watering frequency to water less often is now an option. Start to winterize your system by removing the timer, filter and pressure regulator from the hose bib. Remove the batteries from the timer, drain your filter and store in a dry area over the winter. Open the ends of the drip lines to let all the water drain. Replace the end caps to prevent debris from entering your lines. Drip systems do not have to be removed and stored if you completely drain the lines and emitters of water.
There is much to do in the garden even as the day's get shorter and cold weather creeps in.
• Tomato plants that still have green tomatoes on them should be picked clean, or the entire plant can be cut and hung upside down in your shed to see if the tomatoes turn red. The green tomatoes can be fried and enjoyed for eating now, or you can also ripen them in a paper bag in a cold and shaded spot.
• Some perennial plants, shrubs, or trees should be pruned now before next year's buds have formed. There is an abundance of information online that will give you guidelines on how to properly prune fruit trees, berry plants, and flowering shrubs. Roses are an exception as you shouldn't prune them at this time, but fertilization before winter will be advantageous.
• Harvest your perennial herbs for drying. Basil, one of my favorites, can be thoroughly picked and made into pesto to be frozen or used fresh. If you had planted 3-4 basil plants, you probably have harvested numerous times thru the summer months and are familiar with the routine.
• Feed your roses (climbing and flowering) before the first frost. Clean the ground underneath them to prevent diseases from being harbored there.
• Now is the time to collect and store seeds for next year. Make sure the seeds are clean and dry and save them in paper envelopes in a cool dark place. Next year's crop should be identical to this year's plants when using non-GMO seed.
• Amend the soil around your planted fruit trees, berry bushes, and garden beds with 3-4 inches of bagged organic soil or compost. The winter rains will water in the nutrients helping the roots to form and grow.
• Build a compost pile in a shady area of your yard. Making your organic soil for next year's garden is the eco-friendliest way to provide nutrients to your plants. Start by gathering your garden cuttings including the plants you dig out when they have finished producing and add them to the pile. Use your raked leaves by piling them up near the compost pile to be added later. At the bottom of the compost pile, you should lay down six inches of straw to help with air circulation. Next throw in veggie cuttings until they get 6-8 inches high then pile on more straw, leaves, or grass clippings in layers. Keep layering the pile with green vegetation. Finally spray the pile with a hose end sprayer to get it moist, not soaked. This step along with adding red wiggler worms that love the heat of decomposing vegetation will speed up the composting process immensely. The worms can be ordered online and will continue to multiply and turn the fresh materials you add into the soil. When you have finished, cover the pile with a tarp or plastic sheeting until a month has passed, then uncover and turn the pile with a shovel or turning fork. Add a little bit of water for moisture to help the decaying process. Return once a month to turn the pile, maybe adding more garden cuttings or kitchen waste each time and cover. By March you'll have the most beautiful, most fertile soil ever!
• If you would like to grow garlic, now is the time to plant. There are many sources for garlic online but if you buy from a grocery store, choose large heads of a tasty organic variety that you enjoy. Each head will give you eight cloves that can grow into eight perfect size tasty heads come next June. Plant the cloves every 6-8 inches in a row and then set up drip irrigation to water them until they sprout. Cover the bed from heavy wind, rain, and frost with row cover (GCI Row Cover) until Spring. It takes nine months for garlic to be ready to harvest, so you'll need to dedicate a bed or row until July.
• Planting of spring flowering bulbs can be started now as the cold weather keeps them dormant until Spring. There are many sources including your local nursery or online. Allium is a favorite that is available in white and purple and growing to 3' high and wide. Iris is another bulb that comes in many beautiful colors and will fill in over a few seasons. Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths round out this group with a flurry of color.
• Plant strawberries now if you live the Southwest or mild areas of the west coast. Check online for the best varieties for your area (zone). Established strawberries should be thinned keeping the new shoots for a bountiful harvest next Spring. Clear the ground around them for ventilation and apply a layer of compost too.
• If you have a lawn, reseed bare and dying patches to take advantage of the Fall rains. There are “seed and feed” (fertilizer + seed) products that will give your lawn a head start for next year. If your grass is still growing, set your mower blade to the highest setting for a healthy tall winter lawn.
• Your houseplants growth starts to slow down as the days get shorter in the fall. Reduce your watering and fertilizing now until Spring.
• Fruiting canes of this year's raspberry plants need to be eliminated. Next year's berries will be produced on the new green canes. Tie up the green canes on support wires.
• Wrap the bark of your young trees with paper tree wrap to protect them from cracking during the freezing winter weather.
Take a few pictures of your herbs and perennials with your digital camera or phone now. You can use these pictures next Spring before you start digging in your beds, so you'll know where last year's plants and bulbs are. Make notes now on what worked well and what didn't so that you can improve the look of your garden for next year. Plan to make a few significant improvements that are best done now while the weather is cold like adding another garden bed, adding some perennial flowers for a color to your veggie beds, or try something new (like shallots) that needs many months to grow to maturity. Divide spring and summer blooming perennials and plant them in other areas of your garden. These ideas and the others that I started this blog with will turn next Spring and Summer into a real gardening bonanza.