This is the last column of the season.
As the season draws to a close, it is time to tend to the needs of our plants and tuck them in for the winter.
I asked gardeners whose green thumbs I respect to tell me what fall chores they do, how they do them and if they have any tried-and-true shortcuts. We all love a shortcut, don’t we?
Robin Wolfe, a landscape designer at Wells Nursery, recommends using a serrated bread knife to chop down daylilies, hostas and Siberian iris. “It does the job,” she said. Spray paint the tool handle red and you’ll always be able to find it.
She also recommends:
u That ornamental grasses be left to add interest and feed the birds in the winter.
u Not cutting back chrysanthemums. They do better if left whole until spring.
u And whatever you do, don’t use a string trimmer. “It can rip plants right out of the ground,” she warned.
Another good tip is to spread compost two inches thick over flower beds. This will serve as a protective layer for plants in winter, discourage soil heaving and improve the soil.
Trees and shrubs
I touched base with Fadeggon Nursery’s Randy Herrington and asked for any advice on his specialty, which is trees and shrubs. He said to keep those newly planted shrubs and trees well-watered until the ground freezes, which is generally in early December — a time when most of us have put away the garden hoses.
If you put in new broadleaf evergreens, hollies or other landscape plants, you definitely want to keep a hose handy and water regularly.
He also suggested spraying the leaves of rhododendrons, hollies, boxwood and other broad-leafed evergreens with an anti-desiccant for the first winter to protect them from winter wind and sun.
For roses, I asked Master Rosarian Dave Gade what he does at the Schenectady Rose Garden, where he is the garden operations supervisor. He said he cuts all the roses — except climbers — back to 15 to 18 inches tall. Next, he covers the crown with mulch using about 4 shovels full per plant. Finally, the roses are covered with straw.
In the 35 years he has been tending roses, this method worked the best. For a mulch, he likes to use pine bark mulch and then move it off the roses next spring and spread it around the plants. This shortcut streamlines the process, he said. You can use pine needles and shredded leaves as mulch.
Climbers don’t get cut back and need to have as much of their wood protected as possible. “Tie burlap around them,” Gade advised.
I asked Cornell University’s Carolyn Klass, an entomologist, for advice on controlling the slug population, because many gardeners complained that slugs were numerous in their gardens this year. She said that slugs tend to overwinter as eggs deposited on plant’s stems or leaves. A thorough cleanup will cut down on the number of eggs.
“The fewer the hiding places, the better,” she said.
Slugs lay their eggs in the top layer of soil, on mulch, dead leaves and even empty flower pots.
In addition to doing a thorough cleaning, Klass recommends weeding. Japanese beetles lay eggs in soil and feed on roots of grasses. “A garden with lots of grassy weeds could be providing habitat,” she said.
Sue Beebe, assistant director of Saratoga County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Ballston Spa, was the person I went to for expert lawn care advice. She said that recent research has shown that the late fall fertilization previously recommended can lead to turf problems such as leaf spot and snow mold.
Current thought is that established lawns should be fertilized on Memorial Day and Labor Day and that grub control should be put down in early July. The exception would be young turf planted this year. A new lawn should be fertilized two weeks after the grass stops growing, which typically occurs between Thanksgiving and the first week of December.
Happy gardening. Have a wonderful winter and I will be back in the first week of spring.
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