As the seasons shift, it’s time to start thinking about garden maintenance tasks. No matter what part of the country you live in, we are all slowly losing daylight hours. So what can you be doing now to get your garden beds ready for the colder months ahead?
Instead of just mulching and pruning, thinking that’s enough, plan to make a few time investments and inexpensive purchases now, which will help your plants get a head start in the spring.
If you irrigate your garden, make sure you blow out the lines with compressed air to prevent freezing and damage. Most of the irrigation kit types can just be pulled up for the season.
For plants that grow longer and into the cooler seasons, try dressing them with compost, or even creating hoop houses for them. It’s inexpensive and worth it. A jug or two full of water with the caps off inside the tunnels will help retain the humidity, and prevent hard frosts from burning them. Most of my larger planters are lined on the inside with bubble wrap, to help with the freezing expansion of the soil to protect the pot, as well as to keep in some thermal energy for the roots. I move them to a southwest or southeast facing part of my deck, for that low, direct sunlight.
Some of us have “non-zonal tender plants” we want to keep, like August Beauty Gardenias, or even those last few peppers that are still producing. So to prepare them for the colder months ahead, I recommend inserting three stakes around them and wrap them with some burlap, which you can purchase at a home garden center, perhaps add a bit of pine straw on top, which will also provide some protection. You can also re-use those tomato cages on late producing summer crops as well — simply slip a clear plastic bag or two over them to create a mini greenhouse. Before mulching newly planted or tender plants, line the base with newspaper, then mulch. This will help retain moisture, and help them organically decompose, adding to the amendments.
As the frosts arrive, and beds are going dormant, there are still some maintenance tasks to fulfill. Cleaning out those dead leaves and cuttings will get you ahead of next year by not giving insects, fungi, and other critters a refuge. Starting a compost pile, planting cover crops, bagging leaves, adding mulch, amending beds, or starting a new bed are just a few of the tasks that should be on your to-do list.
Want to extend the growing season indoors, cheaply? All you need is a dedicated space, and a couple of clip-on dome shop lights or a four-foot dual florescent light fixture, which run around $18.00. Daylight CFL bulbs are “bluer” than the others, which you need to promote growth; cool white bulbs have the oranges and yellows, for germination. Set a timer to light for 8 hours, and this should work nicely. I have one each of CW and daylight bulbs, so all the color spectrum (of one expensive grow light) is covered. This is the same set up you would use in late February for when you start your early seeds. You can garden indoors year round, and these plants help purify the air indoors as they grow. Just remember you will have to feed.
Don’t forget your bird buddies as well. Start setting out the suet feeders for them and also get ready to close down the Purple Martin houses, if you have them, so squirrels won’t bed down in them.