Preparing the garden for winter

Friday October 5, 2012

Besides clothes shopping with my wife, one of the many things in life I try to avoid is making predictions.

Curiously, many of my friends assume that as a writer of things related to gardening I have some innate ability to predict when the last maple leaf will drop, when the first frost will occur, when the first snow will fall. So as not to disappoint anyone, I predict that these things will happen when they happen.

In anticipation of these happenings, use this long Columbus Day Weekend to:

n Dry some apples for winter use. Unless they’re stored in a root cellar, apples won’t keep long before shriveling or rotting. However, drying apples in an oven or electric dehydrator can be a great way to preserve the fruit for winter use. Peel, core, and cut apples into 1/4-inch thick slices. Dip these into a solution of 1/4 cup lemon juice and one quart water before placing in the dehydrator. If oven-drying the apple slices, set the oven to 115 degrees. The finished product should feel leathery.

n Cut some stems and leaves from basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and other leafy herbs for drying in the dehydrator. Freshly dried herbs will have much more flavor than those found in bottles at grocery stores. Those herbs may be a year or more old.

n Pull up tomato plants if frost is imminent and hang the plants in a garage, basement, or breezeway so the fruit still clinging to the plant can ripen. Otherwise, remove the fruit, wrap them individually in newsprint, and store them in a warm place, but check them every few days for ripeness.

n Cut back the side branches on potted lantana and geranium. Place them near a window in the basement, away from heat sources. The plants should remain nearly dormant. Keep the soil dry, though a little water every few weeks is not a bad idea.

n Cut back the spent flowering stems on lavender plants. Oddly, there seems to be more dieback in winter on lavender stems with flowering stems left intact.

n Start a compost pile. They will be plenty of fodder for the pile as we begin removing spent plants from gardens and raking up fallen leaves.

n Dig up the bulbs, corms or tubers of summer flowering plants, such as dahlia, call lily, canna, colocasia, gladiolus, and tuberous begonia. Cut back the plant stems and dry the bulbs, corms, and tubers on a screen in an airy shed or garage. Once they are dry, gently brush off loose soil and store the "bulbs" in a cool location. The tubers of colocasia prefer warm storage temperatures.

n Consider installing sod if there is need to renovate or create a new lawn area. It’s too late to guarantee successful seeding of a new lawn, but sod should get established if installed this week or next. Keep in mind that soil preparation for sod is the same as for seeding a lawn.

n Do not cut back the leafy stems of asparagus until they have completely browned.

n Rake leaves from crowns of perennials in flower borders to prevent smothering. Once the ground freezes, apply mulch around the plants and then place pine boughs or straw over the plants. At that point, the straw or pine boughs should not affect the crowns.


I don’t have to go out on a limb to make this prediction. After glancing at the list of activities, I do predict that everyone attending this weekend’s Annual Harvest Festival at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge will have a fun time. Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.


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