Hey, Jack, we aren’t ready for you yet. Yes, I am talking to our old friend Jack Frost. He has been making some quick visits, but hasn’t checked into the hotel for the winter season yet. But once he is here, you will see your annuals turn black and perennials turn yellow.
That’s your cue to start your cleanup attack. Annuals are the first to go. Cut them down to the ground, or just pull the roots out of the soil and toss them on the compost pile. Get the pruners out and cut back any damaged stems on your perennials.
Carefully rake out all yellow and brown leaves and pull all the weeds you can get your hands on. Toss all twigs, and other broken debris on the burn pile. Throw out all broken yard decorations and clean pots that previously held the annuals around your yard.
Prune back a few shrubs such as beauty berry and butterfly bush. Wait to prune other shrubs until late winter. But leave early blooming shrubs such as lilac and magnolia until after they flower. Ornamental grasses and red twig dogwoods can be left alone for the winter. They will give you something pretty to look at when the rest of the world is covered under a blanket of snow.
Bulbs and tubers
Just because Jack Frost has made a couple of quick stops doesn’t mean you have to put your tools away for the winter. You can continue planting as long as you can work the soil. So if you haven’t tucked the bulbs into your garden beds yet, get the kids working on that one. If you have a large area to cover in bulbs, try using a three-inch auger bit installed on a hammer drill to get through the clay soil.
Some roots aren’t round bulbs, but a more flat root mass. These are called tubers. The root system for beautiful flowers such as dahlias and cannas are called tubers and they don’t like the frigid cold. By the end of October, dig these tender tubers out of the ground.
After the foliage has turned black or yellow from frost, dig the cannas and dahlias out of the ground. Leave about three inches of the stem and check the root for any soft spots. That is a clue that it is diseased. Look for any holes that could be home for grubs or other insects. Toss out anything that is damaged. Leave the healthy roots to dry on newspapers in a cool dry place for a few days.
Wrap each one in dry newspapers, a box filled with peat moss, or pack in paper sacks labeled with color and height of each tuber. Store them in a cool dry place until the threat of frost is lifted in late spring next year.
If you are going to fertilize your lawn one time a year, this is it. A slow-release winterizer will carry your lawn through the winter and help it turn green quickly in the spring.
Watering your lawn is really important. This keeps the roots hydrated for winter, but it is really important to water your lawn in the early morning, not the late evening. The sun will dry off the blades of grass and prevent bacteria from growing and causing problems next year.
Your turf is really slowing down, so you might have time for a couple more mows before Jack Frost puts the lawn into its winter slumber. Mow it shorter than you usually do, down to two inches. This will give the bacteria less surface to cling to and maybe cut off some existing disease before winter.
And one last task: check the compost pile. If the compost is ready, use the decayed debris to top dress all of your plants and lawn. If your trees are just starting to drop their leaves, you can mulch them right into the lawn. Don’t bag the leaves until they get too thick to mow through. This layer of chopped up leaves will act as compost for your turf and become “gourmet food” for it all season long. Grass clippings should be mulched right back into the turf too. They are a good source of nitrogen and even better — they are free!
OK, Jack. Give us a few more weeks and we might be ready to hang up our garden knee pads until spring. But I don’t put the camera away. You will need to keep taking garden pictures to make plans for next year.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at firstname.lastname@example.org.