Some may think that with the arrival of the cooler weather of fall, garden duties become less. I find that not so true. There are still many things to do, including some planting for the next growing season. Planting garlic for next summer’s harvest, sowing a cover crop, and digging up dahlias and cannas are just a few of the chores to get done before winter weather sets in.
October is garlic planting time. Purchase garlic meant for seed or buy organic garlic. Commercial garlic that you buy in the grocery store may have been treated to inhibit sprouting. Plant individual cloves root end down (pointed end up) two inches deep and eight inches apart. Garlic likes well-drained, compost-amended soil. Once the ground has frozen, cover the garlic bed with six inches of straw or some shredded leaves to protect it from the winter weather.
After frost has blackened the tops of dahlias and cannas, cut the foliage back to two inches, then dig up the tubers. Let them dry for a day or two, but not much more as they will start to shrivel. Brush off the dirt and store them in a crate or cardboard box that has been lined with perforated plastic. Fill the box/crate with dry peat moss or wood shavings and keep the tubers moist but not wet or they will rot. Store them in a cool, dark place at 35 to 45 degrees F.
Keep your trees and shrubs well watered, including evergreens, especially those that were newly planted this season until the ground freezes. Woody plants may look like they have gone dormant, but their roots are still active until late in the season. The foliage of evergreens can be damaged by the drying effects of winter wind and sun, especially if they are planted in a southern or western exposure. The use of burlap screens can help protect them.
If you have had your soil tested, now is the time to add any needed amendments. Doing so will have your garden ready for spring planting.
When cleaning your flower garden this fall remember to leave some of the seed heads for the birds. The seed heads of plants like purple coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), coreopsis and cosmos will provide tasty treats for birds such as goldfinches.
My favorite fall chore is to pot up some spring bulbs for forcing. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, grape hyacinths and any other spring bulbs that need a cold treatment will work. It is not recommended to mix up different kinds of bulbs in the same pot unless you know they will all bloom at the same time. Place the well-watered pots in cold storage (35 to 45 degrees) for 12-16 weeks. Check on them now and then and water when the soil is dry. After they have had a sufficient cold treatment, bring them into a warm, sunny location to enjoy their pre-spring beauty.
As always, Happy Gardening!