For many of us, the Thanksgiving weekend means four days off from work. It also typically means we’ve had too much to eat.I’ve got a solution for all those free hours and extra calories. Get outside and work in your garden.
It’s time to put things to sleep. With two good cold snaps behind us just about everything above ground is going or has gone dormant.
Let’s start with hoses. I don’t care what the labels or tags say. They might purport to be guaranteed to be soft and supple in the coldest of weather, but they’re not. Try to coil one on a 35-degree day and you’ll agree.
All your hoses should be drained, coiled and put inside a garage or shed for the winter. Take the sunniest and warmest day of the weekend and stretch your hoses out. Twist them to remove the kinks and try to lay them down a slight slope so they’ll drain.
Once they’re been in the sun for a while they’ll be easy to coil. And once that’s done, attach the male end to the female end and screw them together.
Why? Well an open hose can be a very inviting place for a mouse during the winter. Sometimes they can get in but sometimes they can’t get out. It’s pretty disgusting when you pressure up your hose next year only to find a dead mouse is blocking it up.
It’s also important to drain and store your sprinklers. Even a small amount of water left in a plastic fitting or sprinkler can result in cracking, leaving it completely useless next year. Drain them, blow them out and store them in a shed or garage.
Also remove any control valves you may have attached. I use all brass valves that can run $15 each but when they are cared for they last a decade. Even these need to be stored and dry for the winter.
Next it’s on to the plants. The most reliable way to ensure that you’ll have a return of insect- and disease problems next year is to not clean your garden up now. Fallen leaves from fruit trees that aren’t removed from the landscape or orchard can be a source of inoculation for disease organisms next spring. The same is true in the vegetable garden where it’s critically important to remove tomato plant foliage and stems as well as stems and foliage from eggplants and all the vine crops, including melons and squashes.
Foliage from the berry patch should be removed as well and this is especially important with raspberries and strawberries. Clean away the old leaves with a tined rake and either compost them or move them far from the patch.
A well-cooked compost pile will kill most, if not all, of the disease organisms but the internal temperature of the pile will have to reach 120 degrees. This won’t happen again until next year so it’s a good idea to let this compost pile sit and cook well into 2014 before you harvest it.
In the perennial border all but a few plants can be cut to the ground and the stems and foliage composted. Here the disease issue isn’t quite as great as in the vegetable garden but removing peony foliage and stems can reduce the chances of botrytis returning.
Cutting back iris foliage to just a few inches can reduce both insect- and disease issues and cutting back tall garden phlox can reduce mite and foliage spotting issues.
Hybrid lilies should be cut once the foliage begins to brown. Stems should be cut to about 2 inches above the ground.
Two plants that you don’t want to cut back in the perennial garden are Russian sage and lavender. Russian sage, also known as perovskia, is usually pruned in late spring when new growth or sprouts occur on the previous year’s stems. Lavender is also pruned in the spring once it has broken dormancy and you can see where the new growth will be taking place.
There is yet another group of perennials whose shoot growth dies back at the first frost or freeze but the crown of the plant remains alive and active. Some that are a little confusing are the digitalis. Their stems brown and the flowers disappear, but at the ground a mass of lush green foliage can remain. This “crown,” as it’s referred to, can remain well into the winter and only dies back toward spring when it’s replaced by newly emergent foliage. Some rudbeckias do the same thing, as do a few other perennials.
Columbines will also leave behind a tuft of green foliage that can last well into the winter. As with the previously mentioned plants, this foliage should not be cut but left behind because it is still feeding the plant, even on colder days. When this foliage begins to brown, you will notice a small tuft of new foliage about 2 inches in diameter emerging at the crown and this will be the plant that survives the balance of the winter and grows next spring.
A number of sedums with long stems that flowered in the summer or fall will now have naked stems. If you look very carefully at the ground where the stems emerge, you may notice next year’s tips just emerging from the soil. It’s okay to cut the stems but be careful to leave the tips behind.
In mid-November I was still finding roses in bloom in Southampton. The only pruning that should be done on roses before the winter is on long canes that might be whipped by the wind and broken. Otherwise the general rule is to leave them be until early spring.
That having been said, last winter I didn’t give one of my favorite roses any winter protection and it didn’t make it. So, if you’ve got a few roses that you know can be winter-temperamental they should be protected, but not until all the foliage has dropped and the plant is fully dormant. And always, always collect and remove any rose foliage that’s gathered on the ground before winter.
Gardening equipment needs protection as well. Anything with a gasoline engine either needs to be fully drained of the gas or the fuel needs to be treated with a conditioner such as Sta-Bil.
Fill the gas tank, add the recommended amount of stabilizer then run the engine for five minutes. This is true of mowers, tillers, sprayers and weed whackers.
If the machine has a battery, remove it and store it indoors and trickle charge it every 90 days. Clean the decks, belts and pulleys before putting the machines away.
For larger machines that might be water-cooled instead of air-cooled, check the coolant for the freeze point and make sure it’s winter ready. Don’t assume that it will take straight anti-freeze, as most don’t. If you’ve got a snow blower, make sure it’s ready and serviced.
Any liquid fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides should be moved indoors to a safe place where children won’t have access to them but where they will stay at 50 degrees or above. Never store garden chemicals in any container other than the container they came in. Grass seed, granular fertilizer and granular herbicides don’t need to be heated but grass seed should be stored in a rodent-proof container.
Never assume it’s going to be a mild winter. I’d hate for you to get caught with your plants down. Keep growing.