by Connie Oswald Stofko
We’ve had a long and pleasant autumn, but some Western New Yorkers have had to shovel already. Even if you still have grass showing, you know winter is on the way.
Here is a list of last-minute gardening tasks to do to prepare your garden.
Put away your breakables.
Anything that’s breakable, such as glass garden ornaments, ceramic bird baths or ceramic pots, should be brought inside. There is a chance that wind might topple some of these delicate items or a branch might fall on them. They can crack in the cold, and if they hold water, they can crack when the water in them freezes and expands.
Bring in your rain barrels, plastic fountains and hoses.
Don’t leave your rain barrel hooked up all winter. When the water freezes and expands, even a plastic barrel can crack– I know this because it happened to me. If you don’t have room for a big rain barrel in your garage or shed, tip the barrel on its side.
Plastic wall-hanging fountains can crack, too, so empty those and bring them inside. We had one that cracked, so I planted it up with succulents and I leave it outside all year long now–The crack provides drainage.
Your hoses can crack, too, if they’re filled with water. You might want to bring those in.
Lawn furniture can come in, too.
If you’re not planning on sitting outside in your yard, on your porch or on your deck during the winter, bring in the furniture to protect it from the weather.
Plant a tree or shrub. You should already have your perennials in the ground, but you can plant a tree or shrub right up until the ground freezes. If you’ve already purchased a tree or shrub, it’s much better to get it in the ground than to try to store it in its pot. See tips for planting trees in autumn.
Mulch your perennials to protect them for winter. Now is the time to mulch around your perennials to protect them against bitter winter temperatures and fluctuations in temperature. Leaves are great for this purpose.
Extend the season for herbs with mulch.
Cover your herbs with a thick blanket of autumn leaves and you may be able to harvest them for weeks to come. See this video from November 2013. Caesandra Seawell, garden manager at the garden at City Honors School in Buffalo (also known as Pelion Community Garden), covered her herbs in the autumn and in May still had sorrel, red veined dock, rue, oregano and lovage under that thick layer of leaves.
Cut back ugly perennials.
You can cut back the dead leaves on plants such as hostas to make your garden look nicer. You may want to leave other perennials standing. For instance, the dried seeds of black-eyed Susans look lovely against the snow, plus they provide food for birds. See which plants to cut back in autumn and which to leave.
Measure and photograph your garden beds.
This winter you will probably take some time planning for spring. You’ll dream of new perennials and shrubs you want to plant.
Maybe you want to fill in a space between two perennials. You have fallen in love with a plant that gets four feet wide. Will it fit in the intended space? If you go outside in January to measure the space, will you even be able to find the two existing plants under the snow cover? Measure now.
And if you take photographs, you’ll have a better idea of what you already have and where those plants are.
Label your perennials
Sure, you know what that plant is now, but in spring when it’s just a couple of puny leaves, you’re going to ask yourself, “Is that a flower or a weed?”
Make sure you label your perennials, and you may even want to use more than one tag. Sometimes the plant tags tip over during the winter, and if the tag is lying down between two plants, it’s difficult to know which plant the tag was supposed to go with. I sometimes surround a plant with old plant markers or plastic forks. That way even if weeds sprout before your prized perennial does, it will be easier to know which is which.
Mow the lawn/leaves
If your grass is long (and not too wet), give it one last mowing for the season. If there are leaves on the lawn, even better. You can chop up the leaves and let the tiny pieces fall onto the lawn. It will help your lawn.