The Island Garden
up your garden for next year. There’s lots to do.
As a first task, check over your garden beds to see how much mulch is left. If it is shallow or has been blown away leaving a bare spot over the summer, you might want to add more now rather than leave the bare spot for winter.
Adding mulch now helps to prevent weed growth next spring, conserves moisture, preserves soil nutrients, and keeps your yard looking neat. If you use organic mulches such as ground up leaves, grass clippings, and compost, you are actually adding nutrients to your soil, nutrients that will help flowers and shrubs to grow next season. Plus, mulches help to preserve soil temperatures and to help plants that might be killed by the cold to survive.
Mulches don’t have to be expensive wood chips. They can be anything organic. Don’t throw away that bale of straw that you bought for Halloween. It is the perfect mulch. Simply lay it on your garden and leave it for the winter. By spring it will have rotted down so much that you’ll probably be able to dig it into the soil.
If you have corn stalks, run them over with your lawn mower and put them on your garden to rot. Leaves and untreated grass clippings can also be used as mulch, as can shredded newspapers or the confetti made by your office shredder. Just pile it high around your plants and rake it off early spring.
Atypical example of mulching is the one on my leeks. I apply a eight-to10-inch layer of mulch around the leeks this time of year and continue to harvest leeks until well into January. I might add that digging leeks in January is no fun when the ground is frozen, but that’s what a pickaxe is for, isn’t it? The plants that will most benefit from a heavy mulch are flower bulbs, roses, and most perennials.
In areas where heavy snowfalls are present from November through April, mulches are not so critical, because plants are protected from deep freezes by a layer of snow. But in Jamestown we get a snowfall, then the snow disappears, and another snowfall arrives only to disappear again. Mulch helps perennial plants to survive the cycle of the ground being exposed and covered again.
Indoor and greenhouse plants
By now all your indoor plants should be indoors or safely in your greenhouse. Gradually taper off the watering of indoor and greenhouse plants, so that you won’t get too much root rot. The most common cause of dead plants during the winter is overwatering. Only water indoor plants when the soil surface is dry when you stick your finger in it. If a plant such as rosemary needs to stay a little moist, set it on a tray of pebbles (pick small half inch or smaller diameter pebbles from a beach or buy expanded clay balls from an outfit such as Worms Way (www.wormsway.com).
Set the pebbles or clay balls on the tray, put your plant on top and pour water over the pebbles. Keep about a quarter inch of water in the pebble tray. As the water evaporates, it will keep the plant moist. Another way to keep rosemary like plants moist over the winter is to surround them with other large-leaved over-wintering indoor plants. The respiration from other plants will be enough to keep the smaller plant moist, provided you water the other plants when they are dry.
The respiration from groups of indoor plants is also beneficial to humans in winter. The moisture that goes into the air provides a little humidity and makes your indoor temperatures feel warmer. An important consideration with fuel bills going the way they are. This also gives you another excuse to buy more plants because you want to raise indoor humidity levels.
If you haven’t already done it, you are about done with feeding the lawn with winter store fertilizer. You can still do it, but you won’t get as much effect as if you’d done it earlier. You can, however, lime the lawn. Lime takes a few months to break down to the point where it works, so adding it now sets our lawn up for spring.
You should also rake leaves off your lawn. If you leave them to pile up in corners they’ll kill off the grass and you’ll have bare patches next spring. Once the ground has frozen, try to stay off the lawn so that you won’t damage the frozen grass.
This year instead of putting leaves on the curb for garbage pickup, pile them in one corner of your property. In a year or so, you’ll be able to dig under the layer of leaves for the leaf mold that will provide lots of nutrients for your plants.
Apile of leaves 4 feet high will rot down to around 6 inches in a year or so to provide some nice leaf mold. This is the stuff that you find providing nutrients on forest floors, and in some forests it is a few feet thick. It retains water, provided additional nutrients and acts as a buffer in heavy rains. It can do the same in your garden.