Saturday, October 31, 2020

This Month in the Garden; and Fall Tasks: Part 2


October was a beautiful month with stunning fall foliage. The first two weeks were warmer than average -- in the mid-seventies. The month is ending with more seasonal temperatures. I did quite a few tasks before it became so cold, including planting more than four dozen miniature daffodil bulbs in the Serenity Garden. We still have to cut back some perennials, especially hostas. I must clean and put away the flower tubs and store garden ornaments in the tractor shed. 


Time to cut back the hostas. Otherwise, slugs will lay eggs under the slimy, dead leaves.

We have been raking weeds. Duane shreds them returning them to the flower beds.

Only parsley and rosemary remain in the herb trug. It's time to start my indoor herb garden.

I must put away garden ornaments to protect them from harsh weather.


I've been busy with my new garden-coaching business -- I'm adding to my website October brought me my first client; I loved touring her garden and giving her ideas for making it better. I continue to answer home gardeners' questions. Here are a few more of the common ones:

Can I plant anything in the fall?

Answer: Plant bulbs: they need a an extended cold period to grow foliage and to bloom. It's not too late to plant container-grown plants. They need time to establish a root system before the ground freezes. In my area that will probably not occur until well into December. Add a thick layer of mulch to prevent them from heaving out of the ground when it freezes and thaws. October is the best time to plant garlic, so this weekend is probably your last chance. Garlic needs a cold treatment for two months to induce bulbing. Grow garlic in a soil with a pH of 6.2 to 7.0. Space the cloves four to six inches apart and three to four inches deep, with the root side down. Mulch heavily with straw.


I planted this ninebark 'Tiny wine' last fall. It established well. 


How do I winterize the pond?

Answer: With correct preparation for the winter months it is possible for aquatic plants and fish to survive in your pond for years. Our pond is 10 years old and the fish have always survived the winter. When the water temperature drops below 45°F, shut down the filter, remove the filter media and the main pump to prevent damage from freezing. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for draining and storing the pump. Stop fertilizing pond plants and remove any yellow, brown, or decaying foliage. Discard floating plants such as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Never put discarded water garden plants in our natural waterways. Put hardy plants such as blue flag (Iris versicolor) in the bottom of the pond to a depth of 20 inches or more. Place tropical plants like tropical water lilies (Nymphaea) in a tub of water in the basement or other location where the temperature is above 50°F. Clean the pond by using a skimmer net to remove debris. Prevent the water from freezing by running an air-bubbler. We add a floating deicer to stop ice from sealing off the pond. Do not allow water levels to drop significantly throughout the winter.

Last week saw the final water-lily bloom.

We winterize our pond between Halloween and Thanksgiving.


I don't need to weed in the fall, do I?

 Answer: It is important that you do a final weeding in the fall before weeds left in the garden go to seed and produce hundreds of new weeds next year. Fall is also the best time to treat lawn weeds with an organic broadleaf weed killer.

 I don't pull Queen Ann's Lace because I love it so. But I pulled most other weeds already.


What is a cover crop?

Answer: A cover crop is a living mulch that protects the soil from erosion, compaction, and weeds. Cover crops retain nutrients in the soil; some provide pest and disease control. Plant a cover crop in the fall on fallow areas such as raised vegetable garden beds. If possible, do this before the end of September, but you can plant winter rye in October. Winter rye, barley, oats, and winter wheat add organic material and improve soil structure. Alfalfa, crimson clover, and hairy vetch are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil. Before planting your vegetables in spring, cut, mow, or pull your cover crop and fork under the remaining 'green manure.' I don't have any pictures to show you as I haven't grown a cover crop for some years. Being asked this question, however, motivates me to put it on my to-do list for 2021.

One of the reasons I didn't grow a cover crop this year is because time sped by so fast. I can hardly believe the gardening season is over already. With a hard frost last night, most of the leaves have now fallen and the last blooms have faded. I'm glad I took the following pictures before the freeze.

My gardens' beautiful October colors.

The evergreen needles of the white pines provide contrast to fallen autumn leaves in my woodland garden.

Late blooms. I took these pictures earlier this week. They are gone now.

A red squirrel was very busy storing walnuts in the tool-shed.


I am blessed to have had a comparatively peaceful month. I know that some gardeners in the south suffered more flooding from tropical storms. My friend Dee's garden in Oklahoma was devastated by an ice storm that felled many of her beautiful trees. Dee blogs at Red Dirt Ramblings where she tells about the ice storm's double whammy.  

I'm linking with Sarah's 'Over the Garden Gate' meme and looking forward to visiting her blog to see some October gardens from around the world. 

 Stay safe and well, dear gardening friends.


Pamela x

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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Fall Tasks in the Garden: Your Questions Answered

Eastern Bluebird greets me each morning near the potting shed

As the beautiful Pocono mountains take on their legendary colors following the arrival of the first frost, home gardeners ask me questions about fall tasks. Here are my answers to three concerns that I hear year-after-year. I will answer more of these questions in my next post. My goal is to make 'putting the garden to bed' easier and pave the way for an early start on next year's garden.

Autumn in my Pocono garden at Astolat Farm

Do I have to cut down everything?

Answer: Some plants should be left standing. After the first killing frost, pull out annuals and plant debris from the kitchen garden. Throw plants on the compost, except for any diseased material which should bagged and placed in the trash. I don't cut down perennials that add interest to the winter landscape, such as ornamental grasses with tall plumes. Some plants provide seeds for birds, so I leave them standing. For example, goldfinches love the seed heads of purple cone flower. Many perennials help beneficial insects in winter by providing shelter from their predators. Don't cut back marginally hardy plants like garden mums (Chrysanthemum spp.) as their tops help them survive the cold of winter. There is no need to cut back low-growing evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials such as hardy geraniums, heucheras, hellebores, and moss phlox. You must cut down diseased plants such as bee balm (Monarda) with powdery mildew. Remember to destroy, not compost, diseased stems and leaves.

American Goldfinch eating seeds of purple cone flower in my cottage garden

My favorite ornamental grass picture. I'm glad I didn't cut it down in autumn.

I don't cut back hardy mum (Chrysanthemum 'Sheffield Pink')

How do I prevent tender plants from dying in the winter?

Answer: You know you need to bring your houseplants indoors. Dig up tender bulbs such as cannas, caladiums, dahlias, elephants ears, gladiolus, calla lily, and tuberous begonias and store them where they will not freeze. Pack them in boxes of sawdust or peat moss. You may want to save seeds from your favorite non-hybrid plants. See my post about heirloom seeds HERE. Find a place in the garage or basement for shrubs or trees that you are growing in pots, especially Japanese maples (Acer spp.) Sometimes I have plants in their nursery pots, still unplanted, in the fall. For these I dig holes in the empty vegetable garden beds and heel them in. I protect roses and newly planted shrubs with burlab windbreaks. You can spray the leaves of broadleaf evergreen shrubs with an anti-desiccant to prevent moisture-loss caused by cold weather conditions because when the ground is frozen, evergreens can't replace moisture loss through their leaves. Use mulch, such as three to five inches of straw, to insulate plant roots from severe winter temperatures.

Dig up tender bulbs such as dahlias. Picture taken in Jenny Rose Carey's garden.

Dahlia 'Mikayla Miranda'

Must I rake all the leaves?

Answer: Ecologically speaking you do not need to rake leaves, but a heavy layer can smother your lawn grass and prevent new growth in the spring. Compacted leaves can promote snow mold diseases that damage turf grass. The easiest way to treat leaves on your lawn is to pass over them with a mower a few times to shred them into small pieces. This method will return nitrogen to the soil as the clipped leaves decompose. In the garden, you can leave them where they fall, so they help insulate plant roots. If you want to remove leaves from your garden, add them to your compost pile rather than bagging them and hauling them away.

You don't have to remove leaves from your garden. Leave them where they fall to insulate roots.


I receive many more question: Can I plant anything in the fall? What is a cover crop? How do I winterize the pond? I don't need to weed in the fall, do I? I will answer these questions in part two of this blog posting.

I am wondering how you are all doing as these stressful times continue? I hope you are well, as we are. I do have some more sad news for you, though. My gentle goat, Billy, passed away peacefully in his sleep last week. He was the faithful companion of my first mini horse, Dude. He was 15 years old. I miss him so much. 


Billy and Dude napping in the sun on a snowy day.

If you live where it is autumn now and the leaves change color, enjoy the beautiful fall foliage as you 'put your garden to bed.' You can look forward to a rest from gardening tasks this winter knowing that you have made a good start to the next growing season.

Stay safe and healthy!

Love, Pamela x 


Billy Goat as a Baby

A brave foxglove continues to bloom sheltered by a smoke bush.


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