In late fall when the last blossoms have browned and the trees are bare, it's tempting to pack up the gardening equipment for a few months.
Not so fast: Gardens need a thorough cleanup before winter sets in, say the experts.
"I like to leave the garden in the fall as I'd like to find it in the spring," says Vinnie Drzewucki, horticultural educator at Cornell University Cooperation Exchange Nassau County and owner of The Garden Sage store.
The chores you do now will prevent your yard from becoming a breeding ground for pests and diseases, protect tender young trees and plants from winter freezes and give you a head start in spring gardening.
Here's what to include in your fall garden campaign.
Rearrange plants that would benefit from another location.
"Fall is a great time for moving things, including shrubs, around because the soil is warm from the summer and things will continue to grow as long as the soil is warmer than 50 degrees," says Drzewucki.
Even if the air is chilly, the ground is probably warmer because it retains the months of heat.
Clean up dead leaves and plants so diseases and insects can't thrive. You can compost most garden residues, but leave tomato plants out of the mix.
"It's better to not compost tomatoes because they're so disease prone. Put them in a bag in the garbage," says advises horticulturist Barbara J. Bromley, with Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, Mercer County New Jersey.
Mow the lawn.
"Continue to mow until the grass stops growing. The last mowing is around Thanksgiving. Most people assume it's Halloween," Bromley says.
Keep watering if it rains infrequently.
"You want plants to store water for the winter. Newly planted trees and shrubs are at risk for drying out. Even newly planted perennials will dry out if not watered," says Drzewucki.
Trim with Caution
"Follow the three 'D's": Dead, diseased or damaged [tree limbs] can be removed at any time," says Bromley.
In addition, deadhead flowers on shrubs such as hydrangeas can go too. Otherwise save the heavy pruning for late winter or early spring.
It’s a Wrap!
Wrap or mulch delicate plants.
Cover the smooth bark of young trees with burlap to prevent frost cracking. Spread a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around perennials and shrubs and mound soil around the base of roses to protect the graft area, Drzewucki says.
Don't overlook mulching once plants are snow-covered.
"A winter mulch helps keep the ground cold and prevents bulbs from peeking up in a winter thaw," says Bromley.
She suggests chopping branches off Christmas trees to place over bulbs. "The branches make excellent mulch, airy so water gets through and decomposing in the spring," Bromley says.
For the Birds
Save a little for the animals.
"Don't hack back your plants altogether. Leave standing perennial stems for birds," says Bromley.
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