Fall is a beautiful time of year. Fall is also time to prepare the garden for winter. The following chores should be completed in November.
Modern, bush-type roses (hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras) require protection during the winter months. Iowa's low winter temperatures can severely injure and sometimes kill unprotected roses.
Hilling or mounding soil around the base of each plant is an excellent way to protect bush-type roses. Begin by removing fallen leaves and other debris from around each plant. Removal of diseased plant debris will help reduce disease problems next season. Then, loosely tie the canes together with twine to prevent the canes from being whipped by strong winds. Next, cover the bottom 10 to 12 inches of the rose canes with soil. Place additional material, such as straw or leaves, over the mound of soil. A small amount of soil placed over the straw or leaves should hold these materials in place. Prepare modern roses for winter after plants have been hardened by several nights of temperatures in the low to mid-twenties. Normally, this is early November in northern Iowa, mid-November in central areas, and late November in southern counties.
Strawberries should be mulched in fall to prevent winter injury. Excellent mulching materials include clean, weed-free straw and chopped cornstalks. Apply 3 to 5 inches of material. After settling, the depth of the mulch should be approximately 2 to 4 inches.
Allow the strawberry plants to harden or acclimate to the cool fall temperatures before mulching the bed. In northern Iowa, strawberry plantings are normally mulched in late October to early November. Gardeners in central and southern Iowa should mulch their strawberries in early to mid-November and mid- to late November, respectively.
Finish harvesting root crops, such as beets, carrots, and parsnips. Afterwards, clean and till the garden. Fall clean-up and tillage provides several benefits. Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris. Removal and destruction of the diseased plant debris reduces the severity of many diseases. Removal of the plant debris also eliminates hiding places for some insects and helps reduce insect populations. Additionally, a fall-tilled garden dries out and warms up more quickly in the spring, permitting earlier planting of cool-season crops.
Trees and Shrubs
During the winter months, rabbits often gnaw on the bark of many woody plants. Heavy browsing can result in the complete girdling of small trees. Rabbits also may clip-off small stems at snow level. Small trees with smooth, thin bark are most vulnerable to rabbit damage. Apple, pear, crabapple, and serviceberry are frequent targets of rabbits. Other frequently damaged plants include the winged euonymus or burning bush, Japanese barberry, dogwoods, roses, and raspberries.
The best way to prevent rabbit damage to young trees is to place cylinders of hardware cloth around the tree trunks. The hardware cloth cylinder should stand about 1 to 2 inches from the tree trunk and extend several inches above the expected snow depth. The bottom 2 to 3 inches should be buried beneath the soil. Small shrubs, roses, and raspberries can be protected with chicken wire fencing.
For spectacular blooms during the Christmas holidays, pot up an amaryllis bulb in early to mid-November. When planting an amaryllis bulb, select a pot which is approximately 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. The container may be clay, ceramic or plastic, but should have drainage holes in the bottom. Plant the bulb in good, well-drained potting soil. Place a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the pot. Center the bulb in the middle of the pot. Then add additional potting soil, firming it around the roots and bulb. When finished potting, the upper one-half of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. Also, leave about one inch between the soil surface and the pot's rim. Then water well and place in a warm (70 to 75 F) location.
After the initial watering, allow the soil to dry somewhat before watering again. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. When growth appears, move the plant to a sunny window and apply a water-soluble fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks.
During flower stalk elongation, turn the pot each day to keep the flower stalk growing straight. Flower stalks that lean badly may need staking. Flowering usually occurs 4 to 6 weeks after potting.
Proper care of garden tools and equipment prolongs their lifetime, prevents costly repairs, and improves their performance. In fall, remove caked-on soil from shovels, spades, hoes, and rakes with a wire brush or a stiff putty knife. Wash the tools with a strong stream of water, then dry. Sharpen the blades of hoes, shovels, and spades. Wipe the metal surfaces with an oily rag or spray with WD-40. Sand rough wooden handles, then wipe with linseed oil to prevent drying and cracking. Hang or store the tools in a dry location. Drain water from garden hoses. To prevent kinking, store hoses on reels or coil and place on a flat surface.
Remove grass and other debris from the underside of the lawn mower. Drain and change the oil on mowers with four-cycle engines. Clean the air filter. Check the spark plug and change it if worn. Start the lawn mower and let it run until it is out of gas. Sharpen the mower blade. Finally, store the lawn mower in a dry location.
With the gardening chores completed, it's time to relax and enjoy the upcoming holidays.
This article originally appeared in the 10/8/2004 issue.