This month, we clean up and prepare the garden for a long, long, long winter. . . But not at the expense of enjoying Fall Foliage.
Complete tucking in the garden, seeding cover crops, and canoeing on the Warner River are priorities this month.
Our Zone 4 first-frost date of 9/20 is creeping upward into the first week or two this month. In 2004, we cover-cropped one row, but skipped it this year.
The first week of October (2005) is good for another week under spun poly ("reemay") and a blanket.
A busy period for Farmers Markets, since it is the end of tomato/corn season and beginning of pumpkin season. We stopped participating in the Warner Farmer's Market in order to focus energy and time on gardening and canning. Local farmers markets and produce stands still provide us with enough veggies to can and supply our table.
In the Basement and Mud Room
Our mud room is generally about 10 degrees warmer than outside temps and about 10 degrees cooler than indoors. It serves as a transition for bringing potted plants like rosemary, herbs, and pepper pots before bringing them indoors. A screened porch abutting the garage (lows about 6 degrees warmer), and a half-basement (generally about 50-60 degrees, no matter what the outdoor temperature is) are also used.
Storing root and other vegetables requires a right mix of temperature and humidity. See November Archive for more on storing fruits and vegetables.
In the Garden
Kale is the toughest of the greens, collards next. Mulching helps extend the harvest, but after a few hard frosts they need to be protected with poly spun fabric.
Our Napa cabbage never did form heads, although the leaves still were a great substitute for cabbage or other greens for stir fries. They prefer cool temperatures, so next year I'll time their seeding to mature in late September/early October.
Dig parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes after hard frosts have sweetened them.
Dig horseradish just before the ground freezes. The tops should be trimmed from the roots to within one inch of the crown.
In the Perennial Bed
Planting and Seeding
Spring-flowering bulbs can be planted in fall. NY Botanical Garden recommends waiting till late October to plant tulips. For southern zones, Mississippi State Univ. extension recommends refrigerating tulips and hyacinths and planting in December. Add some bone meal to the soil.
Since bulbs are a favorite food source for meadow voles, we have avoided them with a couple exceptions. For some reason, they avoid dahlia tubers, which require digging and storing in the basement in northern zones. See March Archive.
The only control for these rodents is hardware cloth surrounding the bulb and buried about 6" below soil level and 2" above. The only bulb worth this effort for this gardener is the white 'Casa Blanca' tiger lily. It is an exotic and very fragrant lily. Of the three planted two years ago, one was lost despite the protection.
Pansy,Viola seeds, and Oriental Poppies can be spread on the soil surface and mulched slightly. All three need cold temperatures to germinate.
Some perennials still in plastic pots are stored in a sheltered area for next year's garden or meadow. Several inches of mulch on the bottom and several inches between pots with a layer of mulch on top keeps them well insulated.
Cover crops eliminate the need for mulching. They compete for late-season growing space in our garden, so we have no more than three rows available for fall seeding cover crops.
Generally, mulch should not be applied to perennials until after the first or second freeze. Thick layers of mulch are counterproductive. It can prevent moisture from reaching roots; it provides ample cover for meadow mice (voles); and, it facilitates rot, especially for bulbs and perennials that form basal clumps.
After several years of debate and experimentation about how much and when to mulch, Planter takes an incremental approach. Applying thin layers each time reduces the chance that it will blow away and still allows for watering until the first frost.
* Add a thin layer of grass clippings the exposed soil. Let sit about a week.
* Add another thin layer of grass clippings.
* When daytime temperatures rarely get above 65 ° and following the first frost, add about 1/2" inch of mulch (grass clippings, pine needles, straw) to bare soil and 2" to perennial and bulb beds. Too much will provide cover for pests (we have meadow voles) and might encourage rot in spring melt. If the plant stumps are not diseased (e.g., blight in tomatoes), we leave them in the ground to further protect against erosion. The stumps will be pulled out next spring before tilling.
This northern gardener fell in love with the bigleaf hydrangea cultivar that produces the subtle pink/blue flower clusters that are so great for drying. 'All Summer Beauty' , unlike other bigleaf hydrangeas, should be pruned in the fall and provided some protection from wind, sun, or cold. After three years of trying to get it to bloom, we are still
The peony bush is the only spring-blooming perennial that is pruned in the fall. Summer and fall-blooming perennials like delphinium, shasta daisy, coneflowers are pruned to about 12" above ground level. Some gardeners like to leave purple coneflowers untrimmed, so wildlife can enjoy the seeds.
Some annuals like Dianthus can be trimmed and may grow back the following spring.
Rambler roses should be pruned and diseased and dead rose canes should be removed.
In the Activity Room
Make a ristra for holiday decorations or gifts.
Reprinted with permission from Candy Witcher Galleries
Wreath-making from bittersweet and barberry prunings.
What's in Bloom Outdoors?
'Homestead' Verbena, petunias, and calendula win the contest for cold-hardy plantings, tolerating temperatures freezing. Some are planted in an above-ground cement planter on our front porch (south-facing), and in a flower bed abutting the same porch.
African Daisy 'Osteopurmem' comes in second. It withstands several frosts and finally succumbs at the end of the month. If deadheaded, this plant has 9 lives! Too bad the seed industry has cornered the market on the seeds. . .
First frost in 2002: October 9th, 31 °
First frost in 2003: October 6th, 28 °
First frost in 2004: October 5th 30°, then lows in 40's, highs 50-75; 10/20, low 29°
First frost in 2006: October 6th, about 28°, another follows two days later, then lows in 30s, 40s, even 50s as of 10/20.