2009-10-08 / News

Getting ready for the first frost

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Now that fall is officially here, it’s time to get ready for the frosty season. There are a number of things to do in the garden during the next few weeks.

The biggest job (at least in my yard) is to dig up all the dahlia, elephant’s ear, caladium, gladioli and canna lilies for winter storage. Be sure to label them before frost hits or you will end up like I did last year with a garbage can of dahlia tubers with no labels. You cannot leave these bulbs in the ground around here and hope that they’ll survive – they won’t.

While you’re at it, you might also dig any artichokes and move them to a frost-free area. I’ve tried keeping artichokes in the cold greenhouse, where they’ll survive down to about 26 degrees, but it gets colder than that on a winter night and I lose about three-quarters of them.

This is also the time of year to sow spring bulbs, lots of them, for early color in your garden after a long dreary winter. Don’t ask me how I know winter is going to be long and dreary. I just know.

This is also the time of year to check the houseplants that you set outdoors for the summer. Spray with a pesticide now to help eliminate any pests, and spray again in 10 days to two weeks to hit any eggs that might have hatched. Only then move the plants indoors. If you do not spray, you risk an insect explosion when your heating comes on – insects think it’s spring and hatch. Your best solution, if that happens, is to move the plant outdoors and spray it again. When moving your plants, knock them out of their pot and see if any have become root bound. If so, re-pot them before taking them indoors.

You might want to dig up and divide large clumps of perennials, such as hostas and lilies. Give them a week or two to get acclimated before frost. When dividing these clumps, make sure you water them carefully. This time of year can be quite dry, and your plants will benefi t from a heavy watering.

If you fertilize your lawn, you might want to spread lime and fertilizer about now. Lime counters the acidic rain we got this spring and summer. It does little for the lawn, except to make it easier for grass plants to take up nutrients. When cutting your lawn, bag the residues to remove leaves and debris before winter sets in and you can’t get outdoors. I find that I usually cut my lawn after Thanksgiving to pick up leaves that are clumping up. After that, the lawnmower goes in for its annual maintenance. Over the winter, keep leaves off your lawn and try not to walk on it.

In your vegetable patch, seed any bare areas with winter rye. It’s available at Jamestown Hardware right now. By sowing winter rye, you keep nutrients in the soil over the winter.

If you are a seed saver, now is the time to check seed heads and bag any that you want. Store them in the refrigerator to mimic the cold spell of winter and sow next spring.

Set out your bird feeders to give birds time to get used to them before they need to feed. Buy your birdseed now before prices go up. Make sure your feeders are clean and free of dirt and debris from last year. Soak them in a bucket of hot water to which you’ve added a quarter-cup of bleach to kill off microorganisms. Rinse with fresh water and you’re good to go. If possible, after a hard frost, set out a dish of water for the birds. You may have to replace it each frosty morning, but birds like to have some fresh water during the day.

Finally, make sure that your log pile is near the house so that you don’t have to trudge through deep snow to get to it, but not against the house where insects from the logs can get into the walls of your home.

Return to top