Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 12, 2012

DIRT ON GARDENING: Recent cold temperatures are death knell


— All good things must come to an end.

Have you ever heard that expression before?

When it comes to gardening, it all too often is an expression referring to the end of the growing season. Recent cold evening temperatures in the upper 20s and lower 30s is the death knell for most vegetation.

There will be a few survivors of the cold weather variety but fragile succulents like impatiens and Coleus will be, as they say, “toast.”

Warm weather isn’t completely gone for the season however — there will be plenty of time to enjoy what’s left of our spring and summer efforts.

Now would be a great time to start the clean-up process in our gardens by removing dead or browning foliage in preparation for the final winter blanket in a few weeks.

This will involve a heavy mulching of leaves (which may be left whole or finely ground) or bark, or peat, or a combination of all along with some well-rotted compost. This “tea” will bolster your soil’s composition and rejuvenate it for the coming year. Next spring, before tilling, add more well-rotted compost — it will not only give you much needed additional nitrogen but will also help to “lighten” your soil by loosening the compaction and giving you a great loamy mix.

Valuable patio flower containers should be monitored closely and removed to a closed area when temperatures dip below freezing to prevent cracking when the soil expands. I hesitate destroying my pretty flowers in containers this early in the fall season so I’ll just keep a close watch and take them in when necessary.

Tea roses are so pretty this time of year, but in another week or two it will be time to cut them down to a foot or so and mulch them heavily with leaves and soil covering them completely. Next spring, after all danger of a late freeze, you may cut them back even further after removing the soil and mulch. Trim back, to six inches or so, to green healthy canes remembering always to cut just above an outside bud to retain a candelabra shape. Remove any dead wood down to healthy stock. If you wish, cones may be purchased to winterize your valuable tea roses. Grandiflora and floribunda roses weather the cold temperatures somewhat better and may be shaped and pruned now or in the spring in moderation. Never butch a shrub of this type as they are meant to be grown as a shrub — unlike their counterpart, tea roses. The more recent and highly popular knock-out rose bushes are of this genre — trim out dead wood and shape moderately.

Another beauty that is still performing well is the fabulous butterfly bush but it too will succumb shortly and then it will be time to cut it back to 1 or 1-1/2 ft. It is very important to mulch this specimen heavily because our, sometimes, sub-zero temps will be too much for them to survive- I’ve sold some the second time because of negligence in mulching — we’re on the edge of its intended zoning limitations. Kept healthy year after year they will grow larger and larger reaching 5 feet and more becoming a joy to behold and attracting gorgeous butterflies of all colors. I’m especially fond of the deep purple on a mature bush that displays draping fronds measuring a foot and a half in length.

Remove your valuable roots, bulbs, and rhizomes from the garden or your patio pots and cull them of rotting or diseased areas, then wash them to remove the soil and thoroughly dry them before storing in dry peat and placing them in a cool and dark spot for winter storage — never store them with apples as it will encourage rot — the ethylene gas emitted from them is the culprit.

In other words, get your house in order because the snow will be flying soon (already is in the Upper Peninsula) and it’s much more comfortable to be doing these chores now rather than with an inch or two of snow on the ground.