By the time fall arrives, Rachel and I are looking forward to a break from gardening. One-hundred and 80 days is a long growing season and we’re both getting tired.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting generally colder temperatures this winter compared to last. Since our first anticipated frost date is Oct. 15, now is a good time to get ready for winter.
First, bring all of your tender plants indoors. Temperatures in the upper 30s can damage or kill most tropical plants. Before you bring them inside, check closely for bugs, especially on the underside of the leaves. Most insects can be removed with a gentle spray of water. You’ll want to remove any yellow leaves as well.
Next, record or photograph the location of what you grew so you can rotate your crops next spring. If you can, avoid planting the same family of vegetables in the same location for at least two or three years. This helps to reduce the depletion of nutrients from the soil. It also helps to reduce problems with soil-borne insects and diseases.
The end of the season is the time to get rid of all of your dying, dead or diseased plants. Any plants with obvious pests or diseases should go in the trash and not your compost pile. If you’re not sure, set it out to the curb. Most plants can be composted except tomatoes, eggplants or peppers. These closely related vegetables are members of the nightshade family and are particularly prone to fungal diseases such as wilts and blights. It’s not worth the risk of infecting next year’s garden.
Once we’ve removed all of the plant debris and weeds from our garden beds, Rachel and I spread a few inches of composted manure to cover. Although the nitrogen will have dissipated by spring, the compost will add structure to the soil. If you’re going to add a layer of protective mulch to your garden beds, don’t put it down too early. Wait until the surface of the ground has completely frozen. The mulch could prevent water from reaching the root zone. It could also create a safe harbor for fungal diseases and rodents right next to your plants.
Rachel and I made a big mistake of using straw to protect our roses. The numerous bales where guaranteed to be 100 percent weed seed free. Not true. The following spring, our garden beds looked like fields of alfalfa. Three years later, we’re still pulling alfalfa from our once pristine flower beds. To make matters worse, every mouse in town took up residence in our yard. The overflow found their way into our home. The following spring, we uncovered mice, rabbits, toads and snakes. It may not be possible to keep your garden completely free of pests and rodents, but you can deny them a warm, safe place to overwinter. Avoid mulching with straw or any other fluffy materials that they can use for shelter.
Don’t let bad weather catch you by surprise. Completing your fall garden chores early makes spring cleanup that much easier.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org