Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going Green: Getting the Garden Ready for Winter

Autumn is a second spring,
when every leaf is in flower.

- Albert Camus

I have been out today enjoying the last of our Autumn color. The moderate temperatures and gentle rainfall have given us the gift of fantastic foliage this year. It has been a rare thing, reminding me of my young autumns in New Hampshire, where my heart would nearly burst as my eyes drank in the vibrant colors. Falling leaves made life there seem like slow motion until the first snow at Veterans day. Then nature would finally allow life to catch up. In the bi-color dank of winter, my eyes would long for October's yellow-ochre and November's fiery orange. My memory of that time and those colors stays with me here in the heartland. This was the first year that nearly approached that breathless beauty. I hate to see it fade.

But the skies have been grey lately, and fall's crisp blue has been replaced by drizzle. The yellows and reds are changing to gold and brown. My mind and heart are reminding me to get out into the garden. There is work to be done, and it won't do itself.

I will admit, I have spent the past month and a half just taking produce from the garden without doing a whole lot of chores. We grew squash and pumpkins -- well, you could hardly call them pumpkins, more like munchkins. We grew those little pumpkin-shaped gourds small enough to fit in my three-year-old daughter's hands. They make great decorations and were so easy. I let the children plant them from seed, water them when they remembered to, and harvest them. It was quite a success.

We've had a few frosty mornings, so the last of the tomatoes have come in. I spent the morning pulling up the plants and raking leaves into the perennial beds to protect the gems I want to survive the cold. Now is the time of year when all gardeners put our plants to bed for the Winter. We tuck them in tenderly and hope they survive until Spring. I always use leaves as the "blanket of choice" for my garden. To me, there is no reason to pay for mulch from a garden center when nature gives an abundant supply of the best mulch there is.

It always makes me laugh to see the lengths people go to to get rid of their leaves, too. In my mind, the only way to collect leaves is with a rake and a tarp, to be dumped on the compost or swept into a flower bed. Of course, that should happen only after you've given the children 57 rides around the yard on the leaf-covered tarp and let them bury you until you emerge as the leaf monster. It isn't autumn if you don't do those things.

But, back to the garden... today I used my head a bit. Autumn is the perfect time to think about what worked in your garden and what didn't. I tried some new placements for tomato plants, beans, and melons. They didn't pan out so well. Lesson learned. I also had terrific success with my roses and clematis (on a beautiful arbor that my husband built for me.) Now is the time to guarantee those successes for next year.

To winterize my roses, I started by building wire cages around them. I used chicken wire or old fencing wire, staked well away from the plant itself. I kept the wire 6-8 inches from the base of the rosebush. I then placed about 5 inches of peat moss at the base of each plant, making sure that it covered the place where the lowest branches emerge.

Then I used nature's autumn gift, those beautiful leaves, to loosely insulate around the plants. Giving your roses a gentle covering of leaves will help prevent die-back during the cold of winter. It will also help keep them from drying out as the wind gets more bitter and dry.

When the weather gets warm enough in the Spring, it will be easy to take down the fencing and gently remove the leaves before they start to break down too much. At that point, you can prune off any dead portions and shape the rosebush. The acid of the peat moss will feed your roses through the winter and early Spring. It can be worked into the soil when temperatures get warmer.

Remember, as the autumn gets colder and loses its color, that the work you put in now to cover your perennials and to cover beds that hold your Spring bulbs will be worth it. As you remove the mulched leaves at Winter's end, you will see tender shoots already sprouting beneath their leaf blanket.

Until then, tuck your gardens in tight and remember the beauty of the Fall. I hope you have enjoyed this garden season just as much as I have.

Spring is not as far-off as you imagine.

- Midwest Mom


  1. I love autumn! And, your munchkin pumpkins...not to mention I am absolutely envious that you have seen the fall colors in New Hampshire!!

  2. I'm not a great gardener, but I love working in the yard. Our season is so long here that I grow tired of it. It is finally going to cool off here (might even freeze here tonight) - FINALLY a relief from gardening. I rake my leaves and bag them up - I know - stupid.

    Take care - Kellan

  3. Autumn is my very favorite season. I love it. There is this feeling associated with fall that I can't describe, but I thoroughly enjoy soaking it up every year!

    I had the beginnings of a decent little try at gardening this spring. Then the neighbor's pet rabbits ate my grape tomatoes as soon as they became tiny little buds. And the deer crossed the street and ate my beautiful zenias that were literally three feet from my front door.

    This fall, the rabbits snacked on my two pots of chrysathamums (spelling?). And now the rest are dying- no idea why.

  4. Pentad -- I love autumn, too. And growing up in New Hampshire was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. It is truly beautiful in the Fall.

    Kellan -- I love gardening, so I wouldn't complain about a longer growing season... But I have to say, towards the end I do tend to get a little lazy...

    Charli - It's good that you gave the garden a try! I live in town, but my MIL and SIL don't. They have the same problems with deer. We had a tiny baby bunny this spring that ate up all our snap peas. My daughter wanted to scoop him up for a pet. The two of us spent a good half hour one day just watching him eat our vegetables. It's tough to be mad at something so tiny. (Although I *would* have liked to get some of those peas!

    Enjoy the fall, everyone!

  5. Hi Julia,

    Nice post on the garden. I was right there with you. You're in my old stomping grounds. I just moved from the NW suburbs of Chicago a little over a year ago. I don't miss those winters.



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