Carve out some time to winterize your garden

Fall is a time, “when every leaf is a flower,” said writer Albert Camus.  How true.  It’s easy to get caught up in the razzle-dazzle of red, gold, purple, green, and brown, isn’t it?  

As gardeners though, we need to stop sighing long enough to realize we are in the home stretch of winterizing our gardens.  

It’s time to rake fallen leaves out of our beds so they don’t smother plants.  Chip those leaves – and others in your yard – with a mower to make mulch for your beds or a thin topdressing for your lawn.  Add any leftovers to your compost bin.  

Good compost starts with a mix of juicy green nitrogen-rich materials and dry brown carbon-rich materials.  Summer compost piles tend to overflow with juicy greens. Adding dry leaves restores balance to get compost cooking.  

Washington County Master Gardener Gary Stallings adds dry leaves to the demo garden compost bin and stirs it to get it ready for winter.  
Photo credit:  Shanon Wolf

If you listen carefully, you can hear hand pruners far and wide chattering their teeth, eager to snip, snip, snip perennials. Temper their enthusiasm.  Beneficial bees and other insects overwinter in hollow and pithy stems.  Let them stand until spring. 

The exception is any plant that had a severe disease or insect problem.  Trim and trash those trimmings.  And deadhead vigorous reseeders that need some discipline.

Be vigilant in cleaning out your vegetable garden, too.  Remove plants and any fallen fruit which can harbor disease.  Many diseases can overwinter in the soil to return with a vengeance.

Seek out and destroy weeds in your garden beds.  A little time spent now routing out weeds pays you back tenfold.  Some weeds overwinter and set seed in the spring, multiplying rapidly.  

My next fall to-do is a to-don’t. Don’t do any major pruning of trees and shrubs now.  Wait until the dormant season:  January to mid-March.  

Why?  If you prune now you are cutting off the buds of next year’s flowers and creating wounds that may not heal well.  Also, pruning stimulates new, tender growth that is likely to get zapped in cold weather.  

Also protect from the coming cold any products you use to care for your landscape. Make sure fungicides and pesticides are stored in a secure area where they won’t freeze.  Check labels for storage tips.

Water deeply any shrubs or trees you planted this year to send them into the winter fully hydrated.  Pay special attention to broadleaf evergreens such as hollies and rhododendrons which dry out faster in winter winds.

After you use your garden tools for the last time this year, clean them well and store them out of the elements.  Sharpen blades and oil wooden handles.  Good tools can last a lifetime with proper care.

As you wrap up your gardening season, take time to note what went well and what you’d like to do differently next year.  Keep a notepad in your pocket and jot down ideas. You’ll thank me later.  

Yes, fall is to be celebrated. Go leaf-peeping, grab a mug of cider, and carve that pumpkin.  Just make sure you carve out some time for putting your gardens to bed, too. 

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

A client carves a pumpkin as part of a Master Gardener therapeutic gardening activity.
Photo credit:  Tina Webster

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