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MASTER GARDENERS: Fall tasks to prepare for winter

Cooling temperatures and shorter days remind us that we gardeners need to get our gardens ready for winter’s vagaries. This year there are different considerations that must be addressed if we want plants and trees to thrive and survive.

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Cooling temperatures and shorter days remind us that we gardeners need to get our gardens ready for winter’s vagaries. This year there are different considerations that must be addressed if we want plants and trees to thrive and survive. There are some “have to's” and some “I can get by's” however. Most of us are worn out and ready to do different things.

"Have to's" often are common sense. Disconnect hose bibs, blow out irrigation systems and put away hoses before freeze-up. Pick up, clean up and put away tools. Protect trunks of smooth-barked and fruit trees from rodent damage with hardware cloth and fence susceptible species from deer.

Shade evergreen species from winter sun damage. Cut back disease-prone species such as peonies, delphiniums and other problem plants to the ground and remove and destroy foliage. Mulch perennials only after the topsoil layers are frozen. Mulch newly transplanted perennials, trees and shrubs.

Some of these tasks take only a few minutes, others longer. Make a list and check it off; they don’t need to be done in one day.

Due to the drought that we are experiencing, some tasks need attention. One is watering plants deeply until the ground freezes. Transplanting a hosta this past week, I found soil powdery down about 7 or 8 inches in places I had watered all summer. Trees, even large ones, and shrubs that do not get watered deeply can suffer damage for years to come.

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Evergreen species and shallowly-rooted species such as birch are especially susceptible. Pruning this fall may be problematic. Woody plants are already stressed; pruning may force growth that the plant can’t support and its resources really need to go into its survival. Broken or diseased material should be pruned off, however.

Mow a bit higher than usual until just before freeze-up. Grass height is the indicator of root depth. Scalping the lawn hurts grass tremendously. It is late for replanting grass but one can overseed in November after the ground is frozen for early germination next spring. We mow and bag our lawn area and use the material for compost. This year we are doing something else.

After vegetable garden plants are removed from the garden and weeds are taken care of, we are piling the lawn clippings and leaves about 4 inches deep on the garden and avoiding the rototilling that interrupts the lifecycles of the microorganisms that contribute to good soil structure.

In the spring, we will move it aside to plant seeds or to transplant and have mulch in place to keep annual weeds from germinating. That is the plan and we will see how it works. Had we planted an annual overcrop in early September, it would also hold carbon in the soil. As it is, it prevents erosion and holds moisture.

In the perennial garden, weed even small weeds out and edge it to keep quack grass from growing in. A bit of preventive work in the fall makes spring work and garden success more readily achieved. Leave some of the tall plants like Echinacea and other seed plants up for the birds.

Service the snowblower, polish your snow shovel, put winter kits in your vehicles, get your bird feeders up, start to exercise to replace the garden exertion and enjoy the coming winter.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu , or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners .

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 , and leave your name, number and question.

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