October 31, 2011

Gardening with Mr. C. - Save money with DIY gardening.

Karen P. responded to my 09/18 - 09/25 survey with the question "Is there something I should do to my garden before winter? (see archive item g and comments). " I gave her a short response and promised to write more in my next article. Even though the snow came before I got to write this (the snow has melted and the sun shines again) there are still things you can do with your gardens (vegetable, herb, and flower), as well as lawns, young trees, berry bushes, and garden log. Because of the number of topics, I did not include the pictures I planned to use.  However, I will if you comment back that you want me to expand on any of these subjects.

Vegetable gardens:  The more you can do now, the less you will have to do in the spring and the better your garden will do next season. I start by removing my tomato cages, bending the bottom tines so they stack easier. I pull up and  dispose of tomato and squash vines to prevent spread of blight and borers. If there are any corn stalks that were too small for decorating, I trash them also for the same reason. Because the beds don't get walked on, the soil is not packed down. If needed, I loosen the soil (I don't turn it over as that upsets the structure the earthworms have developed - let the top-soil remain on top). I insert my spading fork into the soil, move the handle back and forth. This makes it easier to pull any weeds that remain. Corn stalk roots and some weeds with long roots require more aggressive digging to remove (more of a lift and shake). Then I apply about a half inch layer of compost (Agway has a supply if you don't). The snow and rain will leach nutrients into the loose soil.

I still have garlic growing that was missed during harvest because I waited so long to pull them that the tops were gone. Since they have already multiplied, I will divide and transplant them (or they will crowd each other and be stunted) as a start on next years' crop. I'll plant more as soon as I finish cleaning up (for more on garlic, see archive 7/31 - 8/07).  I also have green peppers, which I cover on cold nights because I still have peppers too small to pick. The leaves only freeze where the weed cloth/tarp touches them. The swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, which are all quite hardy and are still ok. Pole beans that have dried before the freeze will be picked and planted next year.

Herb gardens: Pick and dehydrate remaining leaves (see archive 09/25 - 10/02). Loosen the soil and pull weeds. If  you have second year parsley or dill with dried seeds, save and/or scatter them for next year (they will survive the winter and grow when the soil warms). Cover with a thin layer of compost/soil mix.

Flower beds: If you have annuals which are going to seed, pick off the seed clusters. Spread enough seeds to crowd out any potential weeds and save or give away the extra seeds. Cut down any dead stalks. I wait till the very end of the growing season to mow down anything that is still green (iris, lilies, etc) to allow the tops to feed the roots.  Don't forget to dig up your gladiola bulbs and dahlia tubers (ref. archive 8/14 - 8/21).

Lawns: You should gradually lower the mower blade to about two inches before winter. Not only will that benefit the spring growth, but if your neighbors leaves land on your grass, they will blow on by (your other neighbors may not be pleased ).  Personally I want leaves for next seasons' compost so I have developed an art of collecting them from my dozen 40-50 foot high deciduous trees.  I blow and mow them (including the ones that blow over onto my neighbor yard) into an open area where I mow them again to reduce the volume. I then rake them up thoroughly (so as not to leave pieces that would choke the grass) and store them in a large bin. I also found and retrieved more chopped leaves from piles that my neighbors have dumped (in a no-mans wooded area). For more on composting, see archive  7/17 - 7/24

Trees: If you have young trees, wrap them with the expandable plastic guards that usually come with nursery trees (and that you should have removed in the spring to prevent mold from growing on the trunk) or with roll tree wrap. That will keep rabbits from chewing the bark and killing the trees that you have invested in.

Berry bushes: Prune away any dead (gray in color and no leaves), and this years producing plants (to get a better yield from the second year shoots). If you have seedlings or suckers that are growing outside their beds, transplant them, else they will spread and take over your entire garden. (ref. archive 7/10 - 7/17.)

Log book: Be sure to map this years' crop locations and plan next years layout. Record successes and failures.

I hope I have contributed to your successes and that you are looking forward to next year.

Mr. C.


  1. I had no idea you were supposed to cut down tomato vines etc to protect against blight. Thank you for your great column.

  2. To anonymous: I appreciate your thanks. Any feedback, especially a favorable one like yours is like saying sic-em to a dog!! Mr. C.