As the growing season comes to an end, the garden labor also slows down. We’ve been so lucky with the warmer, drier weather we’ve experienced this fall; it’s given us a chance to “catch up” from the summer and prepare for winter. There are some very important tasks we must not forget about in the fall – the way we use our time now can have a big impact on our garden and how we spend our time next year. Most of us will feel like taking a step back from watering, weeding, or planting. But taking advantage of this time of year can have a huge payoff.
The temperatures are dropping, so we do not have to water nearly as much. Although the cooler temps and helpful rain makes it easy to forget, it is still necessary to check our plants and make sure they are not drying out, especially any new plants that were added recently. If the plants are left too dry as we go into the drier and colder parts of the year, they are much more prone to winter damage. This especially goes for evergreens because they can still lose water through their needles and leaves during the winter. Anti-desiccant/anti-transpirant is an extra layer of protection that can protect evergreens from drying out in our harsh winters. It is usually a wax or polymer that adheres to the needles or leaves to create a barrier to water trying to escape.
The need to pull weeds slows down in the fall. The weeds tend to stay small, but they will flower and produce seeds much faster when spring comes around. If you prioritize pulling them in the fall, you remove their chance to produce seeds before you get around to pulling them in the spring. Most of the weeds are not a big deal to miss, but it is a huge advantage to take care of the bittercress seedlings. Hairy bittercress can produce seed pods with twenty to thirty seeds per pod and potentially thousands of seeds per plant. Not only do they produce a lot of seeds, the seed pods also have a mechanism that can launch seeds ten or more feet when they are touched. Pulling these plants before they get the chance to flower can be a big time saver. Another big bonus is they are edible, so you can have a snack after all of your hard work!
A great way to save money each year is to replant rhizomatic plants like cannas, elephant ears, and dahlias that people treat as annuals each year. Usually, they are tropical or just not quite hardy to the cold we can get here, but they have underground storage organs that allow us to save them. These plants can be dug up and dried once the weather starts to turn. They have to be kept in a cool, dark, and dry place (like an unheated cellar or a cool basement) for the winter until they are ready to be planted again. When Spring comes back around, you can pot them up or place them back out into the ground for another round of growing. Most of these plants also spread through their rhizomes, so be ready to have more plants than you know what to do with.
Most people are not excited to see the temperatures plummeting, but we have to make sure we are prepared! Don’t forget to water your plants, keep weeding, and save some of those precious tropicals for next year. Good luck to everyone with your spring preparation!
Cody Hoff, Lead Horticulturist