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Thoughts from the Cottage…

I know, it can be overwhelming: How will we ever tuck it all in for the off season, battening down the botanical hatches “in time”? Particularly in the Northern zones, November can turn on us. Let’s take the pressure off by working in priority order, making sure we get the important things done first, in case the weather shuts down the cleanup operation.

An ounce of prevention…..goes a long way!

Flower Beds

Protect roses from winter damage in cold zones by mounding up their crowns with a 6- to 12-inch layer of soil before the ground freezes. After all is frozen, add a layer of leaf mulch to further insulate.

Cannas, dahlias and other tender bulbs including elephant ears need to be dug carefully for indoor storage. There are many methods, but the basics: Once frost blackens the foliage, cut back the tops to 6 inches and dig carefully, then brush or wash off soil and let dry for two weeks or so to cure. Stash in a dry spot like unheated basement or crawl space around 40-50 degrees, in boxes or pots filled with bark chips or peat moss. .

Don’t deadhead faded perennials, biennials and annuals if you want self-sown, or make sure to shake pods around before removing plant carcasses. Nicotiana, sage poppies, larkspur and many others fall into this leave-it-be group. So do plants with bird friendly seed heads such as grasses and coneflowers.

Prepare new beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of  recycle cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.


Keep mowing til the grass stops growing, and make the last cut a short one. Let clippings lie on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil, and mow over fallen leaves to shred if not too thick, or rake them off into the compost heap before snow comes.

Take the mower in for service after the final mowing, rather than in the spring rush, then store without gas in the tank. Run it dry. If it’s got too much fuel in it, add stabilizer, from the hardware or auto supply store.

Leaves are precious, and make great leaf mold when composted. Maybe start a leaves-only compost pile this year, and use the proceeds as mulch next year? Running over dry leaves (and other dry non-woody material) with the mower to shred will reduce the area needed for a compost pile.

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Trees & Shrubs

Bet you wish you’d added more woody plants that show off in fall. Plan to do so for next year–many can even be planted this late in autumn, if your nursery or a mail-order source still has stock.

Always be on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. This is especially important before winter arrives with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too

Are bulbs all planted?

Many flower bulbs can go in the ground surprisingly late, even up North, but what they can’t do is sit forgotten in your garage all winter. Get those bulbs in (and even purchase more on closeout sales, if you have time for extra digging).

All the while, be thoughtful!

I know I said to keep priorities in order, but don’t rush around mindlessly. While closing the 2013 garden, make your 2014 gardening resolutions. Bring a pad and pen outside with you; this is the time for recording inspiration about what to do differently next year.

Be thoughtful toward the birds, too: Are you ready for “feeder season”? Put out the welcome mat for the birds,

Fall clean up!

November  2013