Fall is opportune time to prepare flower beds, garden for winter

Published on Wednesday, 1 November 2017 19:18 - Written by LINDA SARGENT, Smith County Master Gardener

In Texas with its lovely fall weather, it is hard to think of preparing our flower beds and garden for winter. However, it is easier to start now than doing it on a cold day or even trying to do in spring when you are wanting to plant. Having an established plan will make gardening much more pleasant and easier.

Trees and shrubs: Make sure you clean out debris from around the trunks so as not to provide a winter home for rodents and other pests. Keep the plants watered well and as it will be easier for them to go through a freeze if they have plenty of moisture. Look for dead limbs or other areas that will need pruning once they have lost their leaves and gone dormant. After the leaves are gone would be a good time to selectively prune crape myrtles of only branches that rub together, grow to the middle or are broken. Do not top them!

If you are thinking of planting a new tree or shrubs, the best time is after they have lost their leaves. It will give the root system time to develop over the winter, so it will stand up to the Texas heat next summer.

Vegetable garden: Clean out and compost plants as they stop producing. If not diseased, cut them up some and put them in your compost pile. If you are still mowing your yard put the grass clippings on the bed along with any mulched fall leaves. If you run over your leaves first with your lawnmower it will help them decompose faster. If you have access to cottonseed meal, composed cow manure, alfalfa meal or composed chicken manure now would be a good time to add them to the soil. Once you have prepared the soil, cover the soil with plastic, weed-block cloth or just another thick layer of leaves to keep weeds out. I like using the black plastic because it helps the soil warm faster in the spring.

Your beds are now ready for the early crops of onions, spinach, strawberries and peas.

Flower beds: Selective deadheading of perennials and annuals can be done now if you want to save seeds for next year. Plants that provide a winter interest or food for birds, such as coneflowers, can be left until later. Clean any debris from around plants that might overwinter pests or diseases. It is especially necessary for roses that any debris be removed to prevent black spot or other fungus and daylilies to prevent rust. Cannas, elephant ears and other frost-tender plants need to be cut back to ground level after the first light frost.

Spring bulbs can be planted now. Drop a little plant food in the hole as you plant them. Remember: pointed side up. Believe it or not, I once had a friend plant her entire bed with the pointed end down. If not done in October, you can still plant in November. They can be planted after that but the flower production may be diminished.

Any beds that are thick with weeds can be covered with cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper and then covered with a layer of mulch. When spring planting time comes you can just dig down and plant right through the covering. Newspaper makes a great weed barrier anytime and will decompose during the planting season. No supply of newspaper? Stacks of old newspapers can be purchased from the newspaper office at an inexpensive price.

Lawns: If possible leave the last mowing clippings on the lawn so they can decompose over the winter. Do not leave the leaves on the grass as they can prevent moisture and light from getting through and kill the grass. If you do not have room for a compost pile, mulch the leaves with the lawnmower and put them in a large plastic trash bag. Wet them down and tie the bag up but leave it loose enough that rain can get in, and then punch holes in the bottom and round sides. If kept moist by spring the worms should have provided you with rich compost for your plants.

Tools: The final step is to clean, sharpen and oil your tools. An easy method is to take a bucket or larger container and fill it with sand. Then mix in some motor oil. All you have to do is push tools up and down in sand to oil them. A file usually makes a good sharpener if you do not have an electric one.

When the winter days are cold or rainy you can be snug indoors knowing that your fall efforts have made the garden and flower beds ready and waiting for the next growing season.