Put your garden to bed for the winter

Know the right time to winterize your oasis

If you’ve been composting all summer, now is a good time to add that organic matter to your garden soil once you’ve taken the old plants out of the garden.

Once the plant begins forming dried and withered little squash like these pictured, it’s a sign the plant is finished for the season and can be removed.

When plants turn gray or brown, it’s a good signal that they’re done for the season and you may as well clean up the garden and add the tired plant to the compost bin.

You’ve been weeding, pruning, picking and watering for months and as the weather gets colder and the garden quits producing, it’s hard to work up the enthusiasm for any more garden tasks.

Before ski season or the curling-up-in-front-of-the-fire-with-a-good-book season begins, it’s important to take care of a few more gardening details.

“Practice good sanitation,” said Dennis Hill with Bookcliff Gardens. “Get everything out of the garden. Don’t let it lie in the garden; it can lead to disease and insect problems.”

If gardeners haven’t started a compost bin yet, the garden’s remains provide a great start to build compost for next spring. Those who already have a compost bin should add more compost to their soil once the seasonal plants have been removed.

“Take advantage of the opportunity and add organic matter,” said Hill. “After five years, it will look more like soil, you’ll be able to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know I moved to Illinois!’”

Because the natural soil in the Grand Valley is so poor, turning it into good dirt for a garden isn’t a one-time process, but something that must be worked at over time, adding more organic matter in the fall and in the spring.

Those who want to grow garlic next summer should plant it this fall, sometime this month or in November. Shallots also need to be planted in the fall. Leaf crops such as lettuce and spinach can also be planted once the old plants have been removed and the soil has been amended.

Hill prefers to wait and plant spinach in February.

“We don’t keep a consistent snow cover,” Hill said. “Bare ground can sometimes cause poor germination; drought can cause seeds to die.”

Gardeners who want to plant leafy produce in the fall need to be timely. Plant too early and there’s a risk that seeds will germinate in the fall if it doesn’t get cold once the seeds are in the ground. Of course, they also have the opportunity to see the spinach sprouting in March and start picking it in May.

“This is the time of year to divide perennials,” Hill said. Bulbs such as daylilies and irises can be dug up and spread and larger plants like penstemon can also be divided.

“The cold period will allow them to bloom in the spring,” Hill said. “Dividing in the spring might mean no flower in the spring.”

Now is also a good time to plant new trees and shrubs, but homeowners should do it within the next week or so to make sure the plants have enough time to acclimate before the soil temperatures drops to the 40s and lower.

Those who want to see early signs of spring’s arrival can plant crocus, daffodils and tulips now.

“We appreciate them more than anything because they’re early,” Hill said, although he admitted that it can be difficult for tired gardeners to get out and plant bulbs. “The payoff in spring is huge.”

Hill recommends completing one more task before sitting down and dreaming about next year’s garden.

“Write down your thoughts in the fall,” he said. “You’ll forget half of what you want to do.”

Write down specific plant names that you want to include in next year’s garden. Don’t forget to record the gardening failures so that you’re not doomed to repeat them and record gardening success stories so you can add to them next year.

All of this may seem like too much work on a blustery fall day, but your garden will thank you next spring.


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