The Name of the Game in Autumn is cleanup and put that flower bed to bed! While we may have a few warm days ahead, plants take their dormancy cues from the shortened hours of daylight and colder nighttime temperatures. Our trees, shrubs, and perennials (not to mention the birds and the bees) have worked hard over the summer and are ready to take a break. Here are a few things we can do to make their wintertime dormancy a prelude to a fantastic spring in 2016. And don’t stress out if you don’t finish them all. Just use them as an excuse to enjoy every minute of being outside, in terrific fall weather, before winter rolls in.
AUTUMN un-CHECKLIST: 7 to-do items, mostly tree stuff
FLOWER AND VEGETABLE BEDS: Rake up the dead and dying plants that collapsed in the garden, and be sure to throw any diseased foliage or plants into a city compost bag. Give anything a light trim that’s really gonna bother you to look at in the snow. Otherwise, it’s OK to leave most things “untidy” in winter because the top growth helps trap extra snow over the plant, and this is A Good Thing! A nice, thick layer of snow acts like a blanket of insulation, protecting the dormant plants below. Leaving some extra organic debris (leaves, tall grasses, etc.) also protects your beneficial insects and soil organisms. If you like fireflies and praying mantis, you have to provide their babies with a place to hang out before next summer.
LAWN: Rake up your tree leaves where you want to preserve your lawn, and – wait for it – run over the leaves with the mower. Now sprinkle those shredded leaves around your existing perennials and shrubs like a delicious winter blanket. Make this layer 2-3 inches deep. You’ve just done one of the best things possible to protect your plants through winter AND provide soil nutrition for next year. YAY YOU!
WATER: If you installed some new trees or shrubs this year, and the weather is dry for more than a few weeks, remember to water your new plants. Yes, I know it’s cold outside - do it anyway and continue occasional watering until the ground freezes.
Do hungry rabbits or deer visit your yard in the winter? Though cute, they can cause a LOT of damage. Trees less than 6 inches in diameter are at risk from deer rubbing the “velvet” off their antlers (and the bark off your trees). Protect your smaller trees with removable tree wrap or a tree guard (like this one from A.M. Leonard). Multi-trunked shrubs and trees can be protected with a “cage” made of a wire and stakes to keep the rabbits out of chewing distance.
Larger trees with thin bark – like young fruit trees and maples – may be vulnerable to winter sun-scorch on their south- or southwest-facing sides. This happens when the sun thaws out the bark on sunny days, which then refreezes and contracts at night. Repeated cycles of this can split the bark and potentially kill the tree! Look carefully and you’ll see evidence of this all over Columbus. Use tree wrap (or dilute some white latex house paint) and cover the sunny sides of the tree from the ground up to several feet high.
Pull WEEDS. I know it’s never-ending, but the recent rains should make it pretty easy and you’ll have fewer next year.
Find all of your gardening TOOLS before they get buried by snow! Put them in a box for cleaning and sharpening later this winter. (Don’t worry, I’ll remind you when it’s time, and I’ll tell you how to do it!) Put everything in a dry place for storage.
You’re done. Now sit back and enjoy Give Thanks that November and December are easy months in the garden!
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