These lovely fall days with their summer like temperatures and bright blue skies have been a wonderful way to welcome autumn. With the long range weather forecast for temperatures to be above normal, with below normal rainfall, autumn 2013 will be one to remember.
But summer-like weather can also lull the gardener into a false sense of security. The weather will catch up with us and we need to keep an eye on the forecast to prepare our garden for what's to come. I don't like working in 40 degree temperatures which makes garden cleanup a task that must be accomplished on those warm sunny days when I would like to be watching the world go by from the hammock swing.
It has been most pleasant working in my flowers in sunny 70 degree temperatures. I cut all my herbaceous perennials back to about 6 inches in preparation for winter. The extra few inches of perennial will help protect the crown of the plant from the snow and cold to come. I then carry all the plant material to the compost to become the "black gold" that will enrich our soil next spring. If you see any fungus or mold do not compost but put the plant material out for garbage pickup.
Some people like to leave the perennials for winter interest. I have tried that technique but by the time winter comes my border just looks messy and by the time spring comes I am always glad that my perennial border was cut back in the autumn. Do not fertilize at this time. Let the plants rest. Fertilize in the spring when the plants need it.
In December, when the ground has frozen, the perennial border can be mulched to help prevent the plants from emerging with the first warm spell of late winter. Mulch does not keep the plants warm, it keeps the soil at a consistent temperature (frozen) which prevents the perennials from breaking their dormancy, coming through the soil and being damaged in a late winter storm.
As long as you are in the perennial border tuck in a few spring bulbs close to the perennials. Be sure you keep track of the location and description of the new bulbs in your well kept garden journal. These bulbs are the only thing in the garden that should be fertilized.
My neighbor, Mrs. Miller gardened in our neighborhood for over 50 years. Every fall she planted a "few" more daffodils. Even though she is now enjoying her heavenly reward, people still make our village a destination to view the thousands of daffodils that still welcome spring in her garden.
Roses need special preparations for fall. I always put composted manure around my roses in preparation for winter. The compost conditions the soil and also provides some nutrients to the plants in the spring. Otherwise do not fertilize roses until spring.
Always do an end of season cleanup around your roses. Remove the old mulch which is infested with fungal spores and insect eggs. Spread the compost and then a new layer of mulch. Later when the ground freezes you will pile mulch over the crown of the roses and the lower stems. Prune only damaged canes. Wait until the roses are dormant and then prune back to 2 or 3 feet.
To prevent deer from nibbling on the canes, cage the roses or spray with animal repellent. The roses put to bed properly will be healthy and ready to take off next spring.
If you still have containers of annuals in your garden, compost when they have come to the end of their life. Trust me, they won't come back now. Some experts suggest that the containers should be sterilized with a mild chlorine solution. Others say brush out the old potting soil, dry the containers and store for the winter. I have done both and I have not seen much difference either way. If you see evidence of mildew put that soil in the landfill not your compost.
My containers are always stored in a safe place in our storage barn. Newspapers make great packing material for containers. If you have antique containers take the time to make sure they are carefully stored. Place newspapers between the container and the saucer or better yet if there is room store separately. I don't clean the outside of my containers too well because I like the mossy, aged appearance.
A big part of our garden is the statuary, bird baths, fountains and outdoor furniture. With the exception of the pumps in the fountains and cushions and pillows, everything else is carefully placed in an unheated storage building. If it is necessary to stack items use old quilts or blankets to keep the furniture from being damaged.
There are some things that I insist need what I call gentle storage. I have an antique wicker tea cart that sits on my porch all summer. The top is a glass tray with a beautiful old linen mat under the glass. This spends the winter in a guest room. Likewise cushions and pillows are cleaned and left to dry for several weeks in an out of the way bedroom until I am sure they are completely dry. Then they are stored in mouse free storage until spring.
Autumn leaves must be removed from the lawn. If you have a postage stamp size lawn or very few leaves then a good leaf rake is all you need. Communities have different ways of dealing with autumn leaves. Check with you municipality for directions for pick up. For a larger lawn the leaves may be mulched. This can mean raking the leaves away from trees or other objects and then mowing the lawn every few days. The mulched leaves fall down between the blades of grass where they decompose and feed the lawn naturally.
As the homeowner goes about their tasks make notes in your garden journal as to what repairs and or painting must be done in the spring. At our house we need to replace the floor of our porch plus some needed porch painting. I think everyone can probably put painting on their to do list for spring.
Clean your tools with steel wool and a thin film of household oil. This will get them through the winter and they will be garden ready in the spring. Neaten your potting bench making a list of the supplies like fertilizers, sunscreen or new garden gloves you will need in the spring. Sometimes you can find them on sale right now.
The violet hour comes earlier and earlier in the evening. The garden is prepared for its winter rest. The crescent moon shines through the now leafless trees and the fragrance of wood smoke fills the night air. The gardener enjoys a feeling of contentment for a job well done.