Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.
Leave healthy perennials stand for winter. The intact stems increase hardiness and help catch snow for added insulation and better winter survival. Standing perennials house the eggs and larvae of many beneficial insects that pollinate our plants, recycle plant debris or eat the bad guys. The attractive seed heads and the birds they attract are a welcome sight during the long winter months.
Now is a great time to start or add a compost pile. It really is easier than you think. Put your pest and chemical free yard debris and other organic matter such as plant based kitchen scraps, and shredded paper in a pile and let it rot. Put in a bit more effort for faster results. Use a compost bin to contain the materials and improve the look of your compost operation. Do not add meat, dairy and other animal fats as these attract both rodents and flies.
Gardening Tips for Flowers
Southern gardeners can brighten up the winter landscape with cold tolerant annuals such as pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale, lobelia, snapdragons and alyssum. Northern gardeners, you can get a jump on next season by starting your annual garden now. No, not planting, but soil preparation. Start soon after the killing frost has killed this season's colorful display. Remove the frost-killed plants and compost all that are free of insects and disease. Add several inches of organic matter into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. Compost, shredded leaves (they are free and plentiful), or peat moss works just fine. Turn the material into the soil and let it sit through the winter. Wait until spring to do your fine tilling and raking.
Force spring flowering bulbs for a touch of spring indoors. Use a variety of bulbs and layer them at different depths to extend the bloom time and create waves of color. Start by filling the bottom of a container with a well-drained potting mix. Place larger bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in the first layer. Be sure to position tulip bulbs with the flat side facing the pot for a better flower display. Cover this layer with several inches of soil. Next add a layer of smaller bulbs such as squills, crocus or grape hyacinths. Place them close together, covering the surface for greater impact. Cover this layer with soil and water thoroughly. Move the container to a cold (35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit) location for 12 to 15 weeks. Bring indoors or place in your landscape outdoors for a welcome dose of spring color.
Gardening Tips for Edibles
Keep harvesting cool weather crops such as greens, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli that can tolerate a few light frosts. In fact, their flavor improves as the temperatures cool. Cover these plants when temperatures drop below 30 degrees.
Leave some carrots, beets, and turnips in the ground for a mid winter treat. Harvest the plants you plan on using in the near future. Leave the rest in the garden. Cover the planting with straw, marsh hay or evergreen branches after the soil lightly freezes.This makes winter harvest easier. Then dig up a section whenever needed. In severe winters you may need to wait for a winter thaw to dig through the snow and frost. The sweet flavor of the fresh stored-in-the-garden vegetables is well worth the effort.
Take some time now to reduce insect and disease problems in next year's garden. Remove any pest-infested plants and fruit from the garden to reduce the risk of re-infesting next year's crop. Those battling late blight on tomatoes and potatoes must remove infested plants and fruits to prevent this fungal disease from overwintering in their garden. You may want to apply a fungicide labeled for late blight next season to prevent this disease from destroying your harvest once again. Copper fungicides are effective and considered organic. Read and follow all label directions carefully.
As the growing season winds down, it's a great time to take a soil test of your gardens and lawn to find out what your soil has and what it needs. The results will tell you how much and what type of fertilizer to add for the plants you are growing. Contact your local University Extension service or a state certified soil testing lab for a soil test kit.
Trees, Shrubs and Roses
Trees, shrubs and roses growing in containers add lots of color and texture to patio and balcony gardens. These plants need a little extra care to survive the winter outdoors. Sink the pots, in the ground in a vacant garden area for the winter. This insulates the roots from the cold winter temperatures. Or move the plants into an unheated garage. I like to add a bit of extra insulation around the roots - my garage has plenty. Or surround the pots with non-biodegradable packing peanuts or similar material. Or move the pots to a protected area outdoors. Group together and insulate the pots (plants' roots) with bales of straw or hay, bags of soil or annual containers headed for the compost bin.
Don't worry if your evergreen has yellow or brown needles all along the trunk. This is a common occurrence called seasonal needle drop. Evergreens shed some of their older needles every year. They lose a larger number of needles in the fall after a drought, severe insect infestation or other stress. The needles, from top to bottom, on the inside of the tree will turn yellow, brown and then drop. Diseased trees will show symptoms on the whole branch, scattered branches or small areas exhibiting different patterns of needle drop. Proper watering and care will prepare your plants for winter and keep them healthy for seasons to come.
Those in the colder regions should decide on the type of rose protection you will provide grafted hybrid tea and other tender roses. Wait for a week of freezing temperatures to apply winter mulches. Applying cover earlier can promote disease, provide warm winter housing for rodents and decrease winter survival. Those using the Minnesota tip method will need to dig the trenches and tip the roses over to cover just prior to the ground freezing.
Lawns and Groundcovers
Late October or early November is the last time to fertilize cool season (bluegrass and fescue) lawns. Use a slow release nitrogen fertilizer. The grass will continue to grow and use some of the fertilizer now. The remainder will be frozen in the ground and available to the plants throughout the spring - long before we would even think of getting started on yard care.
Those in the south should make their last lawn fertilization at least one month before the lawn goes dormant to avoid winter injury.
Tips for Indoor Plants
Move cacti and succulents to a cooler location. An unused room or basement with artificial lights may be the perfect wintering spot for these plants. The cooler temperatures will help these sun-loving plants adapt to the lower light of winter. Adjust your watering schedule to compensate for the lower humidity and decreased light of winter. All your efforts may give you an added bonus of flowers in late winter.
Keep monitoring indoor plants for any insects that may have hopped a ride indoors with other plants. Home made or purchased yellow sticky traps will help you trap some of these pests. Handpick and destroy small populations. Insecticidal soap, a soap formulation good at killing insects and not plants, will control mites, aphids and the immature stage of scale and white flies. Read and follow label directions when using this or any chemical.
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