This is a beautiful time of year – leaves falling to the ground in colors of orange, red and yellow. Birds and other little critters running around doing their last minute preparations for winter, our greenhouse doors are closed and life begins to slow down just a little.
Herb Fraser, long time member and experienced gardener in many parts of the world reminded us that each zone and each garden is individually different and requires a plan. When we get our Zone 6a Chester Gardens gardens ready for winter they are prepared for an even more productive spring.
Herb suggested this is a good time to take advantage of sales at local nurseries. The root bound plants can be teased and trimmed, possibly divided, watered well and planted for next seasons show.
We were reminded not to fertilize after mid August or cut back perennials too early as even though plants may appear dormant as fluctuating temperatures may stimulate the below surface activity and plants will produce new growth which will not be winter hardy. It is possible to divide and transplant perennials before the first heavy frost remembering they usually require about 4 to 6 weeks to settle in.
Following a couple of hard frosts, usually late October, early November in the Chester area, ensure that plants are well watered, especially evergreens which provide not only backdrop for our summer show but seasonal distinction and wind protection for our properties.
Thinking about our own gardens, Herb encouraged us to concentrate on clearing debris, checking for pests, damage and disease. It is a good time to weed, pull annuals, to compost any plants without disease, to save seeds such as Marigold, Zinnia, Sweet Peas, Morning Glory, Scarlet runner and to cut back to three or four inches perennials such as Siberian and Bearded Iris, Sweet Peas, Crocosmia, Bee balm. If you don’t cut your plants right to the ground, their stalks will hold new spring growth straighter.
Some gardeners choose plants to add visual interest to their gardens in winter and so leave some standing. Plants, including perennial grasses,ferns and sedems have a neat look, and the seeds of Joe Pye, echinacea and rudbeckia will attract and feed birds all winter.
We were reminded not to cut hardy geraniums or Hellebore.
Plant bulbs like daffodils and garlic now according to directions. The general rule of thumb for planting spring bulbs is to plant two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall.
One thing to always keep in mind is to remember it is all about soil. After the first hard frost, make big efforts to increase soil fertility by providing a fresh layer of mulch. Feeding and amending your soil with organic matter through the use of mulch, compost and other available materials (shredded leaves or seaweed, which is full of micronutrients that enrich the soil and feed the plants. And it’s free!) to increase the availability of the minerals in the soil and create more spaces for air and water will benefit next season’s production & show. Don’t put all those leaves in bags. Instead, run the lawn mower over them and use them as mulch or in your compost and the worms will help them enrich the soil. Also, now is the time to spread lime on lawns and gardens.
What about garden ponds/pools? Herb asked Joan C. to help members understand the winter care needed for garden pools. Joan reminded us that Goldfish and Koi are very hardy and can handle winter water temperatures which means they can survive in the pond during the winter as long as the pond is three feet or more deep, it doesn’t freeze solid and they have adequate water quality and oxygen.
Herb advised us to clean and service our gardening tools so they are in good condition for storage and to begin using next season, especially if we run out of time or the weather becomes challenging.
As a final note, we were encouraged to remember winter brings opportunities to enjoy warmth in front of our wood stoves or fireplaces planning for next gardening season.
Following the presentation and before the regular meeting there was time to view the artistic fall displays, for conversation and a snack.