Now that we have had our first snowfall (just in time for Halloween), we can be sure that true winter is looming around the corner. As we prepare for the colder months of the year, we need to think about some final things to do in the garden before we hang up our gloves and put away the garden tools. It is important to now skip any of these 5 to-do’s for the fall garden, they will make spring so much easier.
- Cut back perennials with no winter or wildlife value. Hostas, iris, peonies, daylilies, salvia, and catmint have little to no value once a hard freeze sets in. After the cell walls are broken by temperatures in the 20’s, these plants die back to the ground, with little to no seed potential for winter snow to settle on or for birds to eat. While catmint and salvia do have some seeds, they are not favored by the birds. Peonies usually have some measure of diseases on the foliage (leaf spots and powdery mildew), so it is important to cut them back and remove the foliage to a burn pile or the trash (DO NOT COMPOST DISEASED FOLIAGE).
2. Wrap trees with a flexible paper or corrugated plastic wrap. Wrapping small trees whose bark has not begun to split and mature will prevent the bark from developing sunscald lesions that often develop into deep scars or cankers that will affect the tree its whole life. Hybrid maples such as ‘Autumn Blaze’ and ‘Matador’ are very prone to this problem, as their bark can take 10 years or more to mature to the point where wrapping is not needed.
3. Leave those Leaves! I have said it before and here it is again, leaves should be left in garden and landscape beds through the winter months. They add a layer of extra insulation for those tender Zone 6 plants that you should not have bought from the catalog. They also help protect overwintering insects and animals, both good and bad. Many moths, butterflies, beetles and other overwinter in garden debris and leaves as both adults and larva. Leaves on the lawn should be mown with a mulching blade on the mower until there are only small pieces of leaves left.
4. Put away tools in a cool dry location. Tools such as rakes, forks, shovels, hoes, hoses, garden carts, soil knives, saws, and any other should be cleaned with warm water to remove any dried soil and bacteria, then air dried and wiped down with linseed or a tool oil. Once this cleanup is done, store tools in a shed or garage out of the weather. Hoses should be drained and coiled, then hung in the shed or garage on hooks above ground.
5. Cleanup and put away lawn mowers and gas-powered equipment. Mowers that will not be used for any winter projects should be emptied of their fuel, have the oil changed, and have the blades removed for sharpening. Other gas-powered equipment such as string trimmers, hedge shears, and blowers should be serviced during the winter by draining the old fuel, cleaning and replacing air filters, and sharpened or cleaned of dried on dirt and debris. Store these in a dry shed or garage until needed next spring.