It may seem as though we are getting ahead of ourselves, when we are barely into fall, but that’s the point. Spring is always such a hectic time for gardeners and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. In our climate it is possible and even desirable to do some of those spring chores in the fall and over the winter. Any day is a good gardening day as long as it is not pouring rain or freezing cold. To a transplanted Easterner it is very satisfying to pull out the lawn mower on a balmy January day! Following are a few suggestions for getting a jump on spring.
Beds and Borders
If you are planning some new beds, now is the time to get started on them. Make the beds, amend the soil, and start planting. Most things will get a head start if they are planted this time of year. In existing beds, perennials can be divided or moved. There are many perennials that won’t even notice if they are dug up before going dormant. In fact one of the best reasons for rearranging things in the fall is that it’s easier to see how they will look when there is still something to see.
Protect and nourish vegetable beds and other empty patches of ground by planting fall rye. This can be done well into October. Cover crops also help keep the weeds at bay. Dig in manure, seaweed and/or compost first and after turning under the rye in the spring all you’ll have to do is plant.
Lawns can be repaired or replaced this time of year. Less heat and more rain make the watering easier and the new areas have the whole winter to settle in before they are subjected to heavy summer use. Give existing lawns a boost with a dressing of lime followed by an application of low nitrogen fall fertilizer.
Trees and Shrubs
The dormant season is the best time to transplant most trees and shrubs, especially anything big. Prune holly in December and use the prunings to decorate for Christmas. January is a great time to prune fruit trees, grapevines, kiwi, Japanese maples and other ornamental or shade trees. Many summer flowering shrubs such as lavateras and buddleias can be pruned in February.
A little weeding in the fall and over the winter can go a long way The weeds seem to start growing before anything else get them while they’re small and you’ll be yourself a lot of work later on.
Diseases such as blackspot can over winter on fallen leaves so be sure to do a good cleanup on the roses. Strip off all the leaves and clean up around the plants. Don’t compost rose leaves; either burn them or put them straight in the garbage. While you’re at it, cut roses back by about a third to protect plants from damage. Plant new, bare-root, roses as soon as they become available in late Feb or early March and they’ll take off when the warm weather arrives.
Rhodos will benefit from one or two light feedings over the winter months. Use rhodo food at about half the rate you would use in the spring. Hedges, shrubs and trees can all be given an application of a fertilizer such as Winterguard. High levels of phosphorus and potassium stimulate root growth and make plants more resistant to disease and harsh winter conditions.
Do a general clean up over the winter. Build compost boxes. Clean and sharpen tools. Get the lawn mower serviced.
So, there you have it. Take advantage of those mild winter days and you’ll be miles ahead come spring. Plus, you’ll have the pleasure of being able to casually mention to friends and relatives living in less benign climates.