This season is markedly different. With the late season warm temps (warmest October ever!), I got impatient to plant my garlic and spring bulbs waiting for the soil to cool off. I was always taught that the soil had to be at least 60 degrees F or cooler. So I dug deeply — pun intended — to see if there was new news and indeed there is. You don’t have to wait until you’re always wiping your nose to plant your garlic and spring bulbs. You lose nothing by planting when you’re not miserably cold and uncomfortable. So go ahead and get all those bulbs in the ground: garlic, daffodils, tulips, and all else. You’ll get the best garlic when you use lots of compost and don’t forget to use crushed oyster shells in the bulb planting holes to protect all but the garlic and alliums from critters. The crushed oyster shells sometimes go by their other name of poultry grit and can be found at farm or feed stores that cater to chicken farmers.
There is still so much green in my garden. When to cut back perennials? The accepted wisdom is to leave them alone until they are truly finished, i.e., yellow or brown if you can stand it. The crowns and roots need to continue building strength for their dormant season so they emerge at their best next spring. Not to mention, late season bees need the pollen; I often find them sleeping in the flowers, getting the last few bits they can from them.
Do not prune anything that is still green. Pruning encourages growth and you want to send the message to your plants to go dormant. Wait to prune shrubs once they are leafless, a sign they are truly dormant. DO NOT PRUNE any early blooming shrubs until after they have flowered in 2018 or you will lose those 2018 flowers: lilac, forsythia, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, azaleas, etc. And hold off on roses until next spring as you need to allow for “winter kill” in the cold zones 5 and below.
Instead of pruning your hydrangeas, how about working on the color of the flowers? Fall is ideal to add lime or acidifying amendments as necessary. It will take the length of the winter for those amendments to make their way through the plant to affect flower color. Ditto if you need to keep your blueberry soil acidic. Get that sulfur worked deeply into the surrounding soil before winter settles in.
Some veggie gardeners wait until spring to disinfect the materials they use to grow their plants (tomato supports, cuke trellises, bean towers, etc.) especially if they had disease. You can use the fall to do that and get ahead of the madness of spring. A commercial antibacterial spray works well or you can make your own spray with a 10% solution of rubbing/isopropyl alcohol from your home medicine cabinet using a spray bottle from the dollar store. Couldn’t be easier.
If you have time and energy, you could disinfect your hand tools, again getting a jump on next season. Use the same commercial antibacterial spray or the alcohol mentioned above. Antibacterial wipes also work well on clean, broad surfaces like forks, shovels, etc. Again, very easy to do and will pay lots of dividends. Be manic about garden hygiene, especially if you grow roses and veggies. While you’re at it, clean out and disinfect your birdhouses in comfortable temps.
If you want to keep rodents out of your garage and shed, scatter some cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil. They hate it to the point of avoidance and the pleasant scent you enjoy will last through the winter. If mice like to make their winter home in the cavities of your mower and power tools, spray some deer repellent in there (outdoors!). The scent won’t be noticeable to you in a few hours but it will keep those critters out of those cavities all winter long. You will not be sorry.
By Lorraine Ballato