by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Well it is that time of year where we gardeners look forward to a break from the work of watering and weeding but are also sad to see the end of our beautiful flowers and fresh produce. While harvesting the last of my tomatoes yesterday many other fall “things to get done” came to mind. Here are a few that may also be on your list or may have slipped your mind.
If you have been lucky enough to have been able to keep last years poinsettia alive, now is the time to start keeping it in total darkness for fifteen hours each day. It will take about eight to ten weeks for the red bracts to start showing.
Be sure to clear your lawn of tree leaves so they will not become matted and smother the grass.
The above-ground parts of evergreens are particularly susceptible to drying out over the winter through a process called transpiration. When the ground is frozen the plants’ roots are not able to take up water to replace that which is lost through the tops. As a result the leaves, buds and twigs dry out. Fighting the winter battle will be made easier by making sure the plants have plenty of moisture before the ground freezes. Give them an extra drink if rainfall has been short.
The sunny days of winter are a welcome sight to us humans, but they can cause trouble for some landscape plants such as young thin-barked trees. The bark tends to split vertically on the sunny side of the tree because as the temperatures quickly drop at sundown the outer bark cools down and contracts faster than the inner bark. Therefore the outer bark must split to accommodate what’s underneath it. You can protect the tree by wrapping the trunk with a commercial tree wrap. I like to use a section of black plastic flexible drain pipe. Purchase the size that will fit around your tree plus a couple of inches and the length you need to cover. Cut a slit in the length of the drain pipe and fit it around your tree. In the spring I take it off and save it for the next winter.
Apply mulch to strawberry plants, but don’t do it too soon because that could cause the crowns to rot. Apply the mulch when plants become dormant but before temperatures drop below twenty degrees fahrenheit.
Winter mulch is not critical for all garden plants, but it can mean survival for some of the less hardy ones. Winter mulch protects against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil and prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants. The soil has a tendency to heave when subjected to wide temperature changes, pushing the plant roots out of the ground. Shallow-rooted plants or newly planted stock that have not had a chance to develop a solid root system are most subjected to the heaving process. Using 2 to 4 inches of mulch such as bark chips, straw or pine needles will give your plants enough protection.
Dig tender flower bulbs to put away in storage. Wait until the leaves of Gladiolas turn yellow after a frost, to dig the corms. Keep an eye on night time temperatures as tuberous begonias, geraniums and caladiums will need to be dug up before we have a killing frost. Canna and dahlia roots can be dug after we have had a heavy frost.
Last, but not least, carve a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern!
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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