The Island Garden
Well, first you might want to look over your flower garden and mark where you have gaps in the flowering pattern. In fact, you should mark any gaps at least once a month during the season so that you know what plants are in bloom, what plants are coming into bloom, and what plants failed miserably.
In spring, for example, you might have crocuses and windfl owers, followed by daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops and others. Then you see a gap as later plants catch up to the early flowers. Fortunately, plum, peach and apple trees are usually in blossom at this time and they can carry your blooming period forward until the later plants come into bloom.
At this time of year, asters may still be in bloom and they are usually followed by chrysanthemums. That is, if you haven’t already bought a good supply of daisy chrysanthemums from Secret Garden – they still have a few left! – or another local store. If you have bought your mums, they can be planted outdoors and mulched heavily. They will usually come back next year. I say that a little tongue in cheek, because a really cold winter can kill a newly planted mum.
For this reason you might want to propagate your mums. It’s fairly easy to do. Simply mix a gallon of potting soil with a gallon of sand or vermiculite and ladle it into 3- to 4-inch pots. Now look for either root cuttings or snip off a short branch with one or two leaves. If it has a flower, snip that off too. Dip the cutting in a rooting hormone and put it into a pot. Keep the pot warm and wait for it to grow. If you plan on propagating with a root cutting, simply dig up a short section of root and put it into the pot. Water and let it grow. As the chrysanthemum grows, pinch it back to make it bushy and wait for it to flower.
But that is getting off the point of cleaning up the garden. Your perennial beds are probably looking pretty ragged by now. I clean mine up by running over the low growing plants with the mulcher lawnmower. It shreds the stems and drops them right back onto the garden. I don’t recommend this method for everyone, nor for every plant. It is simply an easy way to get rid of low growing plants that will die after the first frost anyway. Taller plants can be left to give some structure to the garden and to leave seed heads for the birds. At this time, too, you should mulch any plants that might not survive a very cold winter.
In your vegetable garden, dig up tender vegetable stalks such as tomatoes, and dispose of them. I prefer to put tomato stems in the trash because they can have diseases that I don’t want to spread into the compost. Peppers, eggplants and other tender vegetables can all go into the compost pile. Asparagus ferns can be cut and used with bouquets of flowers. Mulch the asparagus bed to help keep weeds under control for next season.
You can leave root crops such as turnips, potatoes, carrots and parsnip in the ground for a few more weeks. Figure that you should have them out of the ground by Thanksgiving unless you mulch them heavily. That said, I have dug leeks, carrots and potatoes out of the ground for Christmas dinner with no ill effects. Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and a few other greens benefit from being hit by a mild frost. It turns the starches into sugars and makes them a little sweeter.
At this time of year, there is a lot of leftover produce. For example, you may have a few potatoes, a cabbage, some beans, a few peas and other vegetables. Rather than leave these vegetables to rot on the counter, they can be made into a tasty soup in a matter of minutes.
Once you have cleared out the vegetable garden, plant it with winter rye to prevent nutrient loss and to provide next year’s plants with a rich boost of nitrogen when you dig it into the soil. Jamestown Hardware has winter rye.
In your herb garden, pick sage, tarragon, marjoram and oregano and dry the leaves for use all winter. You’ll find that they taste far better than store-bought herbs. Basil can be made into pesto and frozen in ice cube trays; parsley can be chopped and also frozen in ice cube trays. Other herbs should be dried, frozen or potted up and taken indoors.
Your lawn is the next item of care. Make sure you get all the leaves off the lawn so that they do not clump up and kill the grass underneath. Cut the lawn a little longer at this time of year to help it stay warmer longer. Also, fertilize it with a winter fertilizer.
Having done all that work, you can take the winter off from outdoor gardening and enjoy the vicarious pleasure of looking at catalogs and books and planning next year’s growing while sitting in front of a roaring fire.