Home & Garden

Gardening to-do list for before winter

Beautiful leaves such as this ginkgo, are flying off trees and attracting rakers. But there is more to be done in the landscape now that cold weather has hit flower beds and vegetable gardens.
Beautiful leaves such as this ginkgo, are flying off trees and attracting rakers. But there is more to be done in the landscape now that cold weather has hit flower beds and vegetable gardens. News and Observer file photo

I know you have leaves on your mind. They are falling wildly off the trees and this has produced a lot of raking and bagging. This is obvious, but not the only tasks that should be on your to-do list for the next week or two. Freezing weather this week signaled the end for summer flowers and vegetables that had hung on pretty nicely through the warm, dry autumn.

But leaves are not your only task these days. They may be the biggest, but other jobs are also important and, just to mention it, easier on the back.

Think of this work in two sections: flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Let your flower beds both rest and work this winter.

Summer annuals such as marigolds, zinnias, begonias and impatiens that you kept through the autumn can now go. But think about the good soil they grew in. If you pull up the plants, that soil comes up with them. But if you take the time to snip off the plants at ground level with your pruning shears, you leave this good soil in place, ready to welcome new plants in the spring.

Most perennials have bloomed out by now and the flower stems should be cut off to the base of the plant. But do not cut off foliage down at ground level. You may be amazed to see some fresh leaves already emerging. These are hardy leaves and are unlikely to be harmed by our winter weather. However, some foliage, particularly older leaves, will look weather-beaten by winter’s end and can be trimmed back as the new growth emerges. This is especially true of Lenten roses.

Once beds are cleared of this year’s annuals and spent stems of perennials such as asters and chrysanthemums, are cut back, you will likely see fresh, open space that can be put to good use.

The smaller bulbs such as crocuses, snowdrops and bluebells are easy to handle and plant because they don’t require the depth of bigger bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. This is a quick and easy job that will make you happy when they bloom in late winter and spring. Or you can tuck in pansies for color now into spring.

Here’s to good health in the vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden plants killed by freezing weather must be removed because they can harbor dormant insects and diseases that will erupt next spring to make your life miserable.

Clear out and dispose of these plants, such as tomatoes, melons and peppers to create a clean palette for spring planting. Rake up fallen leaves of these spent crops and other plant debris. Clean and put away stakes and cages. Leaf litter off trees can serve as mulch through the winter, then dug into soil before planting time.

Fall and winter crops, such as kale, collards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, should stay as long as they are productive, which could be a while if the weather doesn’t get too bad.

In both flower beds and vegetable gardens, cool-weather weeds can emerge and grow well even in cold weather.

Stay on the lookout for them and remove, and the sooner the better. Chickweed, for example, looks quite benign in its youth but given a winter to grow, it is a rampant weed that will produce a lot of seeds that will erupt next fall.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. Since the days got shorter, my house is much darker than it was just a month ago. I am worried about my house plants. What should I do?

A. Most house plants, such as ones grown for their foliage, will do in the lowered sunlight of autumn and winter. Most adjust nicely and most are dormant so they aren’t putting out fresh growth. Keep them watered but not too much, and dilute fertilizer to half strength.