Over the many years of columns on the countless aspects of gardening, respect and care for the creatures that inhabit them and their surroundings — as well as for the environment in general — I decided to select some of the most important considerations for the final fall wrap-up.
Most are repetitions from old-to-recent columns — but generally the most important things need repeating anyhow; so pick out what most concerns you and simply consider the rest as information for the future.
* Bulb planting and transplanting can take place as long as the soil is workable. In this late season, however, do NOT add fertilizer — good compost added to the planting soil will do — this is where your compost pile comes to the fore. It will nourish them, keep them warm, but will not give them the boost into ill-fated late growth that fertilizer activates. Do, however, water well when planting. (You may add a dash of bulb food when planting bulbs if you wish since they have no exterior leaves to feed them).
* Avoid deep cultivation around shallow rooted trees and shrubs such as evergreens. Roots can freeze or crack during freezes. Rake up litter from under them, and replace with a little mulch of straw (better than hay, since nothing eats it) or leaves can protect till snow comes to do the job.
*Leave faded flowers on those plants that form ornamental seed heads, pods or berries, such as rose-hips and sunflowers.
* Mulch perennials in large garden pots with an armful of leaves or straw; before it turns really cold, wrap the pots with burlap or other protective material. An effective solution is to create a column inside the pot with chicken wire; cut it twice as tall as the plant, then dump it full of leaves. Add a cover if you wish or pinch the top together.
* Wrap the small trunks of young trees from base to first branches with hardware cloth (old Ace bandages are great!) This keeps the deer and rodents from nibbling the tender bark
* Do NOT prune until Spring! However, cut out broken or crossed branches on shrubs and small trees, and check your larger trees for overhanging or risky branches that might break off with a burden of snow or ice. If you have climbing roses, check the branches to make sure they’re study and well attached to their supports so as to thwart winter winds.
* Continue to turn the compost pile frequently, while enhancing it with potato peels, coffee grounds and eggshells — along with leaves and grass clippings (never tainted with “weed and feed”) — for enriching gardens for next season’s planting, right up till snowfall. Then, cover the pile with a tarp or canvas, weighted down for winter’s winds and let it work and “cook” till spring.
* Shrub preparation: We’re told to expect another snowy winter. While serving as the perfect mulch for our dormant gardens, heavy snows can wreak havoc , especially with tall shrubs and those planted under or along your house’s eaves. Columnar-type Juniper — arborvitae especially, is subject to this, with its up-growing, tight-knit branches forced apart and often breaking under snow-load. If you haven’t taken steps to wrap or bind your at-risk shrubs, now’s the time to do it! Burlaping or wrapping with light rope will usually do the trick and allow you to save yourself grief in the spring.
* Don’t forget to leave a bundle of boughs, branches and other such pruned or wind-downed items in a bower for bird and small critter protection from the weather and predators. While there is still “browse” in the form of seed-heads and berries on many shrubs, it’s time to put out the feeders for the cheerful chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers, kinglets and various woodpeckers. Many have already moved down from their summer homes up on Baldy, Schweitzer and neighboring peaks.
*Provide water in a shallow pan or birdbath for your feathered friends. We have a fabulous winter bird population here and it is to be treasured. Hang feeders of black oil sunflower seeds near shelter if possible — nearby shrubs, hedges or trees are perfect. Peanuts — unsalted and in (or out of) the shell are beloved of most all birds and squirrels. Don’t take down your bird houses, they’re great for shelter from the weather. Consider, too, that they may provide a place for our much-needed bats, which don’t hibernate. Consider a bat-house.
* Don’t forget to bring in and clean hummingbird feeders so the sugar solution doesn’t mold to the sides over winter.
* If you burn wood (real wood, not commercially made logs) save the ashes for use in the spring as a soil amendment of potash and/or lime where needed. A small amount may be used in the compost pile, but incorporate it well.
Enjoy what’s left of our beautiful autumn, put your binoculars (and camera) near a window facing the bird feeders, have the snow shovel at the ready and snuggle in knowing you’ve been a good steward of the land and friend to its creatures.
Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-265-4688.