Putting Your Garden to Bed

by Mira Dessy

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With winter just around the corner it is time to start thinking about all those chores that need to be done to make sure that your garden will survive the winter in good shape. Also, this is a good time to begin planning for next year (believe it or not).

First on the list is a good weeding. As the summer went by you probably spent less and less time weeding your garden. Now the weeds have made inroads on your garden. A good way to help keep them down next spring is to weed them out now. Obviously some will come back, they always do, but you'll have less if you get rid of the worst offenders now.

Another important thing to do is all that fall pruning for those things that need it. For example a number of berry bushes, like blueberries, need to be pruned in the fall. If you're unsure of what needs to be pruned or how to prune you can get a book out of the library or check with your local Extension Service.

Any plants that need to be cut back also need to be taken care of at this time. For example, I always mow down my daylilies at the end of the season. This encourages them to put more energy into the bulb instead of trying to continue to produce green foliage. Also, any dead flowers or foliage needs to be removed from your plants and shrubs.

Last, but not least for garden preparation is to mulch those things that need it. If you have any compost that is done composting that's a good choice. For those things that can tolerate it bark mulch is good but be aware that decomposing wood removes important nitrogen from the soil. If you have nothing else to mulch with a good layer of leaves will do in a pinch. The purpose of mulching is to create a layer above ground to protect your bulbs and plants that are under the ground. Remember that the ground freezes in the winter and your plants are in the earth. Also, mulching helps in the spring when those first few sunny days may trick plants into thinking that spring is here. They send up shoots and the next thing you know there is a snowstorm and all of them die off.

As far as planning for next year there are a couple of things that you can do to make it easier on yourself come the following spring. First you should clean, in hot soapy water, all of your garden tools, especially the hand tools, and any pots that you may have used for storing annuals or for starting tender plants indoors. The purpose of cleaning them is to prevent any bacteria that may have been in the soil from remaining on the tools or in the pots and then infecting anything that you put in it next year. Terra cotta pots especially need to be cleaned.

Then organize your potting shed (if you are lucky enough to have one). I have two shelves on the back porch. I organize all of my pots (stacking them by size), neatly organize all my plant markers, hand tools, twine, tape, pens, and whatnot neatly in containers so that when the planting frenzy begins next year I can at least get a good start. I'm also careful to seal up any bags of dirt, potting soil, vermiculite, peat moss, perlite, bone meal, etc. that I have left. I carefully close up the bags and then tie twine around them or rubber band them shut to make sure they don't spill.

The last thing that you can do, if you wish, is to make a drawing of your garden as it existed this year. Just a simple line drawing will do. This will allow you, during those cold winter days, to think about what needs to be moved to another location and what needs to be divided. It also gives you a chance, while pouring over luscious seed and nursery catalogs, to figure out where things are going to go so that when you order them you know exactly what you're going to do with them.

Happy clean up and see you next spring!

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