Special to the OBSERVER
It looks like our extended Fall is coming to an end. Now that the weather is turning colder and the frosts are coming hard and frequent, follow these gardening tips:
- As your annuals fade, pull them out roots and all. It's too late to bring in annuals to overwinter. They have been weakened by the colder weather and will not do well.
- It's not too late to plant spring bulbs.
- If you save Dahlia tubers, the best time to dig them up is after the plant has been blackened by frost. Let the tubers air dry for a few days and gently brush off the excess soil. Store them in a cool dark place in peat moss or wrapped individually in newspaper. Check them once a month or so and remove any with signs of rot.
- Any perennials that get mushy after a frost should be cut back.It's always easier to cut back Hosta before they get frosted and turn mushy, but since we have had some hard frosts already you may have to cut back soggy foliage. The blossom stems are a harder consistency and will persist through the winter. If you leave a few blossom stems showing (I usually cut them to 6 or 8 in.) it's easy to tell where the hosta is next spring. Hosta come up late in the spring, so the blossom stems will prevent your digging in or stepping on the wrong spot before they come up.
- Most perennials with seed heads like daisy, rudbeckia, echinacea and astilbe can be left up. The seed heads provide food for winter birds and look great poking through the snow. The exception would be any plants that you want to prevent setting seed all over your garden. I always cut back native snakeroot and ageratum for that reason.
- Don't cut back foliage from perennials like day lilies and heuchera; their foliage provides crown protection during the winter months.
- In general the amount of fall clean up you do is up to you. Some feel total clean-up is best including raking fallen leaves off beds. I tend to leave fallen leaves. Leaves provide winter protection and a home for beneficial insects and larva, especially during recent winters when we haven't had a solid snow cover. You do, however, have to rake off the leaves in the spring before perennials start growing.
- However, ALL diseased plant material should be removed and discarded.
- Since we're not sure what type of winter we'll be having I'm giving extra protection, in the form of leaf mulch (chopped up leaves), to newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials. Without a blanket of snow to protect them the chance of the roots heaving or becoming dry is much higher. I have been spreading a 3 in layer of mulched leaves in a circle around each plant being careful not to touch the stem(s). If you don't have any mulched leaves "borrow" some from neighbors. There are piles of them at curbsides.
- Once the ground has frozen you can add more mulched leaves right over newly planted perennials for extra protection.
- Collecting these already mulched leaves and storing them over the winter is an excellent source of leaf mold next spring. They can be kept in open plastic leaf bags in the garage or just put in a pile in a far corner of the garden
- Be sure to use mulched leaves as whole leaves will matt down and can be damaging to plant crowns and will not decompose as readily.
- It's important to clean your tools before storing them for the winter. Any dirt left on the tools will increase the chance of rust. Once cleaned, a light coat of oil rubbed on the tool will help keep them in good condition.
Lynn Chimera, Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener