We've had several frosts in the Shenandoah Valley and recently, we had our first hard freezes of the fall with temperatures plunging into the low to mid 20's. The time has come (ready or not!) to start putting your gardens to bed for the season.
- Fertilize - If you haven't already done so this fall, fertilize your beds with a slow-release organic fertilizer such as Espoma Plant-tone or Holly-tone. André prefers organic fertilizers because they distribute nutrients slowly and evenly over time, preventing plants from growing in winter or too early spring. Organic fertilizer that is applied in the fall will be available to the plants when they begin to grow in the spring.
- Water - Give your trees, shrubs, and perennials a good deep watering before the ground freezes. This will generally provide them with the water they need to survive through winter.
- Remember: Unless there is snow cover, it is important to water your plants during prolonged dry spells in the winter (longer than 2 weeks) to avoid damage to roots and evergreen foliage due to dehydration and desiccating winds.
- The best time to water in the winter is in the middle of the day and when temperatures are above 40ºF.
- Mulching - After a thorough, deep watering, replenish the mulch if necessary to a depth of 3 inches. This will help retain soil moisture and also help prevent the freezing and thawing of the soil that can cause the heaving of herbaceous perennials and newly planted trees and shrubs.
- Tidy up under disease prone trees and shrubs - Disease and insect pests can overwinter in fallen leaves, plant debris, and dropped fruit. If left in the garden, these diseases or insects can reinfect your plants next spring. Be sure to rake up and destroy the leaves under your roses, native dogwoods, crabapples, grapes, and fruit trees. Pick up and destroy all fallen and mummified fruit.
- Cut back and destroy the foliage of your peonies as this may carry overwintering spores of botrytis. As you do this, save some of the old flower stems with their interesting seed pods for use in dried arrangements.
- Garden Gleanings - If you tend to cut back the perennials in your garden in the fall, save some of the interesting seed pods and dried flowers. They make great additions to your holiday decorations and arrangements. You are only limited by your imagination! Walk around your gardens with a basket and see what you can find!
- Seed pods of Japanese anemones, blackberry lily (Belamcanda), coneflowers, Siberian iris, poppies, Hibiscus, and yucca are really neat.
- The dried flowers of Hydrangea, Sedum, Achillea (yarrow), and ornamental grasses are great in arrangements, too.
- Don't rake those leaves, mow them!
The leaves that carpet your lawn in the fall are full of good organic nutrients. Many studies have shown that mowing these leaves (especially if you use a mulching mower) and leaving the chopped leaves on the lawn, is actually very beneficial to the grass. The nutrients will be slowly released to your grass through the winter months as the the leaves breakdown. Don't waste this precious resource! It's free fertilizer for your lawn!
- Shredded leaves also make a good natural mulch for your garden. I shred some of my leaves into a compost pile and then use them to mulch my vegetable garden in the summer. It's great for keeping the soil moisture in and the weeds out!
- When you are finished with your mowing for the year, drain the gas from your mower before storing it.