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As winter nears, get the most out of your garden and prepare now for next spring

Raspberries on the bush

Fall-bearing raspberries have a longer harvest season than do summer-bearing raspberries.

In my mind, this is a time of year for observation and decision-making. As to observation, it would seem that the flowering season is over; yet, there are still some very attractive late bloomers. In our flower borders, several which stand out now include Japanese anemone (Anemone × hybrida), toad lily (Tricyrtis), turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), and stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’). Just as most plants are fading, these continue to provide some enjoyment, not only for us but also for the bees, which are making a last ditch effort to gather nectar and pollen for their winter pantry. Seeing all these bees so active now, I’ve decided that next spring, we will have to expand the number of late bloomers. We’ve got to keep the bees happy and numerous.

Another observation is the extended length of the harvest period for fall-bearing raspberries, both red and black varieties. I really hadn’t paid much attention to that fact in the past as at this time of year my mind is already down-shifting to first gear and brain numbing activities such as watching football games while warming my buns by the woodstove. However, with the extended period of mild weather this year, I’ve focused more attention on what’s going on in our gardens. As such, it has occurred to me that the harvest interval for these fall-bearing varieties is much longer than it was for the so-called summer-bearers. The harvest of which began in early September is still going strong and will continue until a hard freeze. Yum, raspberry scones anyone?

Fall-bearing raspberries are also called everbearing. That is because the canes now producing fruit will also yield another crop next June before the canes die. As mentioned, the harvest period for June is much shorter than the one in the fall. If intending to get that additional bounty next year, the canes currently bearing fruit should be cut back by about 1/3 once harvest is completed. However, many growers prefer to cut the canes down to ground level in the fall, allowing for just one harvest. The canes producing the fall will arise next spring.

Usually, I go with both the June and the fall harvest, but many sources claim that pruning to allow for only a fall harvest not only results in a longer harvest period but also larger berries. Therefore, I’ve decided to cut down the canes after the past picking this fall.

Pick your way through this list of activities:

* Keep weeding! Typically at this time of year, many people have turned away from certain gardening tasks, among those is weeding. Yes, frost will eventually kill many of those weeds that are annuals. However, those very same weeds are most likely to have mature seeds at this time. If these plants remain in the garden, those seeds will be a source for weed problems next year. So, keep weeding.

* Keep planting spring blooming bulbs. As long as the ground is not frozen, bulbs may be planted.

* Break apart garlic bulbs, select the largest cloves, and plant the individual cloves 4- to 6-inches apart with the base of the cloves 3 inches below ground. Rows should be about 16 inches apart. Once the ground begins to freeze, cover the planted rows with a 6-inch deep layer of straw.

Frost is imminent, but that doesn't mean it's time to close up the garden!

* Rake up leaves and spread them over garden soils and then turn them under using a spading fork or a tiller if the garden is very large. This is a good way to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. After turning over the soil, work in limestone if needed. Leave the surface of the soil in a rough state as opposed to raking it smooth. This will allow better penetration of rainwater that might otherwise run over the surface causing erosion of soil.

* Pound stakes into the ground around evergreen shrubs before the ground freezes. To the stakes, attach burlap, canvas, or lath fencing to shade the south and west facing sides of the plants from winter sun. This will help reduce moisture loss from plant leaves.

* Place a cylinder of 1/4-inch hardware cloth or fencing around the base of young trees and shrubs. Voles, mice and rabbits love to dine on the bark of these woody plants in the absence of other food sources in winter.

* Be careful not to overwater houseplants at this time of year and through the winter unless they are showing signs of much growth. Always use the finger test to determine the need to water. If the soil feels dry to the finger at a depth of 1 inch, apply water.

* Apply fertilizer to lawns. I know this is not a time of year when most people think about fertilizing the lawn, but research has shown that late fall applications can be very beneficial. While growth of grass is slowing, the grass roots will continue to take up nutrients from the soil until the ground freezes. The nutrients are stored in the roots and will be available to support growth of the grass in spring.


As mentioned at the start, this is a time for observation and decision making. Since I’ve observed family members falling asleep reading this column at this time of year, I’ve made the decision to fold up the Garden Journal for this gardening season. Be well, be happy, and never stop gardening. See you next spring!

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.

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