As we move further into Fall, frost is inevitable. Once frost hits, the farm winds down and gets tucked away until spring. Below are ten things that you can do to prepare your garden for winter and for the early spring.
Get fall bulbs in the ground. It is exciting to plant tulip, narcissus, fritillaria, muscari, and other bulbs knowing that, come spring, you will experience a riot of color. Now is a great time to get your bulbs in the ground, if you have not done so already. If you are planting tulips for arrangements, you will want to plant them so that you can easily pull the bulb from the ground for longer stems.
Start corms. In the same vein as planting bulbs, it is time to start your ranunculus and anemone corms. I like to plant my anemones and ranuncs in two successions. I started half last week and will start the other half in a month. I prefer to soak the corms in net bags in a bucket of water for 3-4 hours before putting them into moist soil in a tray and lightly covering them with dry medium. Keep the trays in a cool dark space. When they start developing roots and sprouts, you can plant them out. You can also plant corms without soaking. They will be a few weeks behind presprouted corms.
Install row cover. After taking stock of row cover to protect hardy annuals over the winter, now is the time to install your hoops, lay down your row cover to the side of the hoops, and be ready to cover your plants at a moment's notice.
Compost. As you transition your beds out of production, pile the compost on those beds. The compost will help replenish the nutrients in the soil over the winter and act as a mulch.
Mulch beds. As leaves are actively falling from the trees, now is the time to gather them up and pile them on your beds. You can use a weed whacker to break the leaves into smaller pieces or just pile the leaves whole on your beds. Pile the leaves over your composted empty beds or around hardy annuals that you are overwintering.
Another form of mulch is living mulch in the form of a cover crop. If you haven't already planted a cover crop, you can still get one in the ground before it gets too cold.
Soil test. Now is a great time to get your soil tested so that you can get needed amendments into the soil. The amendments will have time to break down over the winter and be ready to feed your plants in the spring.
Plan out beds for spring. This is one of my favorite things to do each year. I get out a pencil and my trusty farm notebook. I draw out the available beds and fill in the spaces with the flowers and foliage that I want to grow next year. Make sure to take into account rotating crops and succession planting.
Dig up dahlia tubers. After a killing frost turns your dahlias to brown mush, it is time to begin digging up your tubers. You don't have to wait for a killing frost to dig your tubers, but I prefer to get them out of the ground once the foliage has died back.
Cut back spring-flowering foliage. On our farm, it is time to cut back the peony and asparagus foliage, which has been left all summer to gather energy for the plants. Cutting back the foliage keeps pests and disease from overwintering.
Transplant plants. The fall is a great time to transplant roses and peonies. I planted peony roots last week so that they have time to get acclimated before spring. It is also a good time to divide hydrangeas and other shrubs in order to transplant part of the plant.
Take stock and order supplies. Think through everything you use in the growing season and what you need to restock, replace, or purchase: seeds, twine, flagging tape, amendments, tools, garden markers, stakes, cattle panel, hydration solution, holding solution, rubber bands, buckets, jars, paper sleeves, etc. The list can go on and on. Now is a great time to restock while supplies are not in demand.
Even though it may seem like all the work is done after a frost hits your flowers, it turns out there is still more to do before a long winter nap. Enjoy this season and enjoy being outside!
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