Last updated on December 2nd, 2011
I wish I’d never heard that old, but so-true adage “Leave the garden in the fall the way you want to find it in the spring.” Yes, I’m aware that every weed pulled now, every hosta cut back to the ground, and every clean-up operation completed before snow will count against the spring pandemonium. But by season’s end my desire is rest, not work. Nevertheless, November’s labor pays rich rewards in April:
Leaves. Don’t throw these out, unless you prefer to pay for soil later on. Rake, shred, and compost them. And I hope you don’t have a lone hold-out, like my beech tree. This one sheds its gold burdens long after the maples and other deciduous trees, making timely clean-up around here nearly impossible.
Tulips. It’s not too late to set these out. Water them well to hasten root development before the soil freezes solidly.
Iris. After a hard freeze, mulch new plantings lightly the first year. Only in really cold zones is mulching necessary in subsequent years.
Hellebores. Dig in a little bonemeal around the plants. Also, give them a top dressing of compost.
Hostas. Cut back to the ground. Refrain, however, from dividing and transplanting at this time; you’ll have better success if you wait until spring.
Hoses, Faucets and Gutters. Store hoses in cellar or garage, drain faucets and clean out leaves from gutters. Hire someone, if you can, to accomplish these three essentials in one fell swoop.
Gravel Drives. Rake smooth to avoid frozen ruts later, and insert markers while you can still pound them into the ground. Heavy iron stakes with reflectors make good guides for snow removal, and keep most, though not all, thoughtless drivers from parking on lawns and beds.
Boxwood. If new plantings are of dubious hardiness, either cover with burlap or spray with WiltPruf. WiltPruf is an antitranspirant that protects against both sun- and wind-burn. Hardy varieties like ‘Winter Gem’ need no protection at all.
Roses. If you live in zone 5 or colder, like I do, be prepared to work. Once the top two or three inches of soil has frozen, mound soil, shredded leaves, or compost up a foot or more around plants. Don’t pull soil out of beds, but bring it in from another location. I cut only the most exuberant canes back to keep them from whipping around in the wind. To be safe, avoid further pruning until spring.
Vegetable Beds. Harvest Brussels Sprouts at mid-month (if you have a recipe for these delicious little cabbages, by all means send it to me!). Soil has undoubtedly settled in vegetable boxes; better replenish now with compost, finely shredded leaves, or a mixture of equal parts manure, top soil and sand. Don’t dig the new material in; leave on top for further composting over winter.
Infinitely more pleasurable are the indoor gardening chores:
African Violets. Give plants in windows a quarter turn every other day to keep them shapely. Plants under fluorescents do not require turning, but they do need more food and water.
Amaryllis. Why not treat yourself to one of the gorgeous, big-flowered King’s Court varieties? Start it out in a warm, dim spot, and water sparingly until growth is about 6 inches along. Then move to a cool, sunny place.
Thanksgiving Cactus. Mine is now fully in bud; perhaps yours is, too. Water and feed this Schlumbergera truncate weekly while it blooms.
Calla-Lily. Pot the yellow ones now for Easter bloom; they take about four months.
English Ivy. Drench weekly at the kitchen sink to avoid attacks of red spider and aphids.
Kalanchoe. For Christmas bloom, provide twelve to fourteen hours of darkness for three weeks before Christmas. I put this short-day plant in the dark guestroom closet from 6PM until 8AM.
Paperwhites. Plant at mid-month for Christmas flowers.
Chinese Sacred Lily. For a yellow and white New Year’s bouquet, plant bulbs at mid-month.
Scented Geraniums. If, in October, you joined me in planting slips of scented geraniums, these are fully rooted now. Pot the young plants separately in three inch clay pots. What nice gifts these will make for the December holidays.
Finally, sit by the fire and enjoy my favorite Butternut Squash Soup!
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Garden Gripes: Fall Clean-Up Edition