It is hard to believe that it is almost the middle of November and there has not been a killing frost. Why not take advantage of this mild fall weather to do some fall garden chores?
Now is a good time to get your vegetable garden cleaned up. Pull and chop remaining vines and plants. Chopping can be accomplished by running over the materials several times with a rotary mower or by using a machete. This increases the surface area of the materials, enabling faster decomposition by decay organisms. However, do not include any diseased plants or weeds with seeds.
Enrich your garden soil by digging a trench in the garden, filling it with the chopped material and covering it up with soil. The decayed plant matter will be mixed into the soil when you till the garden next spring. Another option is to spread the materials over the garden’s surface and till them into the soil now.
Leave at least one garden hose readily accessible for late fall and winter watering, but other hoses should be prepared for winter.
Tree leaves should be raked up as they accumulate on the lawn. This prevents leaves from creating a matted layer that excludes light and air, and kills the grass beneath. Chop up the leaves and add them to soil, or start a compost pile.
Woody materials and other slow-to-decay garden waste, such as corn stalks, can be chopped up using a shredder if one is available. Use this shredded material for mulching landscape plants. Do not add it to the vegetable garden or the compost pile, because it will tie up available nitrogen in the soil as it decays.
Every year, I emphasize the importance of fall and winter watering of trees and shrubs. So far, we have had enough rainfall and have not needed to worry about soil moisture. However, extended mild fall and winter weather without significant precipitation can lead to dry soil, necessitating occasional deep watering of landscape trees and shrubs, especially evergreens.
Leave at least one garden hose readily accessible for late fall and winter watering, but other hoses should be prepared for winter. Do this by removing any spray nozzles, disconnecting the hose from spigots, and draining any water still in the hose. Remove any kinks, and coil the hoses tightly before storing them in the garage or garden shed.
There is no need to remove the dead, dry stems of flowering perennials. During the winter they provide cover and food for birds.
Now is also a good time to pay attention to landscape. There is no need to remove the dead, dry stems of flowering perennials. During the winter, they provide cover and food for birds. However, it is advisable to cut back plants that were bothered with fungus diseases, such as powdery mildew. This helps reduce the potential of reinfection next year.
If you feel a need to cut all of your perennials for the sake of neatness, cut the tops back to about 2 to 3 inches from the crown or base of the plant, but take care not go too far. You can harm the plant’s crown where the buds for next year’s growth are located.
Do not do any extensive pruning of trees and shrubs. Only remove broken or diseased twigs and branches. Wait until late winter or early spring if you need to prune more heavily to reduce size or redirect growth. Prune roses only enough to keep extra long canes from whipping around in winter winds. Wait until spring to prune roses back more severely.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.