While we still have some decent weather, take the opportunity to wrap up the things that need done outside. For those who spent a lot of time working around the yard and garden this summer, and many maybe for the first time, being prepared for winter will prove to be worthwhile come spring.
One of the first things that needs to be taken care of, especially as we see more frequent freezing temperatures, is to make sure the hoses are drained, and outdoor faucets are covered. Any watering cans or buckets that you may have outside also need emptied and stored. Hoses, when drained and stored properly can be used without issue for many years. Hoses that are exposed to the harsh winter weather, especially with water still in them, will age very rapidly and will need to be replaced after a short time of use. Covering the faucet will also protect the faucet from freezing and potentially causing problems, either with the faucet or inside the house. As water freezes and expands, whatever it is inside, be it the hose or a plastic watering can, often is damaged and will break.
Looking at flower beds, do not forget to dig up corms, bulbs, or tubers that need to be brought inside for the winter. Typically, these are dug after the first frost has killed off the foliage of the plant. Once the foliage is brown and has died back, you can start to dig around the plant. Remember, in many cases, the single corm or tuber that you planted in the spring will have multiplied. When you begin digging around the plant, start a little further back from the main stalk to help make sure you retrieve all of the new corms/tubers. Then trim off the top of the plants, leaving a few inches of the stem and trim off the roots and remove the excess soil. Spread the bulbs/corms out on some newspaper in a well-ventilated area for a week or so to dry them out. Once they are dry, store them in a crate or onion bag and layer them with dry newspaper or saw dust. Store them over winter in a cool and dry place such as the basement or garage. It’s also worthwhile to check them occasionally to remove any that may be bad. You can tell they have gone bad when they become soft or mushy or have mold on them, all of which are typical signs of disease or rot. If the diseased or bad ones are left in with the good, you run the risk of losing a significant amount of what is being stored together.
Also, in the flower beds, another important task is to clean up any dead plant material, mulch or leaf piles that may be around your house or around the base of trees. Mice and other rodents love finding these kinds of habitats. If you leave large piles of yard waste close to your house, the mice are more likely to try and find a way in. If you have large amount of mulch piled up right against your house, it will not hurt to rake some of it back away from the house. The other areas to check for buildup of mulch, leaves and dead plant material is around the base of trees. This is especially important for younger, smaller trees. Again, mice and other small rodents find these habitats ideal for overwintering and in the case of the trees, they will begin chewing on the bark on the base of the tree and burrowing through and chewing on the roots. This kind of damage to the tree over time can and will result in a girdled tree, at which point the damage is done and very hard to undo.
While you are out working in the yard, you may see some trees that you want to prune branches out of, however, now is not the time to do any pruning. Yes, the leaves have fallen off the trees and they may look dormant; however, the trees and shrubs are not truly dormant until they have been exposed to at least 3 or 4 hard freezes. This means that you need to wait to do any pruning until at least late December or early January. There are a few reasons to delay pruning until the heart of winter, one of them being the lack of diseases and insects present during that time of year. More often than not, pruning cuts attract pests and are a place for diseases to gain easy access into the tree. That is all avoided by pruning in the absence of those threats. Too, pruning when the tree is not fully dormant, it can actually push back dormancy for the tree. A common response of plants to pruning is to stimulate growth and doing this right before winter can result in significant damage to the tree. When the tree is not able to be fully dormant, the cold will damage the branches resulting in die back of the twigs and branches.
You may also find interest in working the soil in your flower beds and gardens before the ground freezes. Working the soil this time of year does several things. One, it helps incorporate organic matter into the soil and spread the soil microbes over the organic matter which results in a faster breakdown. Secondly, it can help with your pest management. By tilling up the soil, you can disrupt pest cycles by exposing the larva in the ground to the winter weather and cold temperatures.
Regardless of the size of yard, gardens, or flower beds that you have, there is always something that you can do now, to make next year even better. Take advantage of the nice days that we have left this fall, because once winter sets in, it will be a losing battle trying to check some of these things off your list!