Even though it is nearly November, the sunshine and warm temperatures have lulled us into thinking we still have plenty of time to get our yards and gardens prepared for winter. But do not delay — though the temperatures are slow to cool, the days are shortening, our plants are going into dormancy and soon the frost will be on the pumpkin. As sure as it is Minnesota, winter will come.
After you have harvested all your crops, but before you begin the cleanup, take a few moments and a notebook to write down a few thoughts about your garden successes and failures this year. Take note of what did or did not thrive, what needs to be replaced or maybe just moved to a better location or, what spaces are available for something new next spring. These notes will allow you over the winter to plan for next year’s garden.
Most Minnesota gardeners are well versed in putting their gardens to bed but there are a few thoughts that bear repeating. Cleaning up your garden in the fall will make for a better and earlier start next spring, so pull up all of your annuals but wait to cut back the perennials until the foliage has turned brown and withered. As long as the leaves are still green they are photosynthesizing and creating carbohydrates that will be stored in the roots and provide for more robust spring growth. If the plants don’t brown before the first snowfall – oh, well they will provide some winter interest. And consider leaving any of the perennials with full seed heads to attract and feed the birds this winter (and let’s be honest, the squirrels too.) Coneflowers, monarda and black- eyed Susans come to mind.
Despite any warm weather, it is too late in the season to transplant. The plants need more time to establish a good root system in their new location. Besides, they will be much easier to transplant in the spring before they have fully leafed out. It is not too late, however, to trim back your hardy shrub roses. As a rule you can cut back 1/3 of the shrub, but if you have one that has gotten completely out of control, like my William Baffin , go ahead and cut back more. Generally if we have an extremely cold winter, the hardy shrub roses will die back to the snow line anyway. If you want to prevent that from happening, try enclosing them in chicken wire and piling leaves around the plant base up to the height you want to preserve.
Maybe you were intending to overseed your lawn this fall, but the warmer weather tricked you in to thinking you still had time. Sorry, it is too late to seed as you normally would; the best time for that is mid-August to mid-September which gives the newly germinated seed time to establish a good root system. However you could try some dormant seeding. According to Sam Bauer, U of M turf grass expert…”dormant seeding can be conducted with any turf grass species. This practice involves seeding when temperatures are too low for the seed to germinate prior to winter. Germination prior to winter is bad and seedlings will generally die if they haven’t matured. Sometimes it is a bit of a waiting game at this time of year. The trick is to find the time when soils are unfrozen so that seed can be worked in slightly, yet air temperatures must be cold enough so the seed won’t germinate. Wait for high daytime temperatures of 35-40 degrees before seeding.” Just be sure that the ground is unfrozen – otherwise the seed will not work into the soil and will most likely just wash off the lawn with the melting snow.
And lastly the best thing you can do for your lawn and garden this fall is continue to water until the ground has frozen. Happy fall – it’s my favorite season of the year. J