Dried, standing sunflowers help birds survive cold weather.
By Maryanne Sparks Fauquier County Master Gardener
Cool weather has arrived, and the beautiful blue fall sky makes us want to be outdoors when we can.
Raking leaves may seem like a no-brain garden chore, but consider that composting and returning fallen leaves to the soil practice nature’s way of giving the earth a seasonal present. Leaves and garden waste, minus anything that may be diseased, will break down and return nutrients to the soil and benefit future garden efforts.
So keep going with fall garden cleanup, maybe even leaving (disease-free) garden cuttings in place to decompose naturally. Organic material will be of benefit to the clay soils typical of Virginia. Not having to remove garden cuttings will save a lot of time. Leaving some perennials uncut — such as coneflower, black-eyed Susan or sedum — will be welcomed by the birds over the winter. Ornamental grasses will be protected from winter crown damage and provide cover for wildlife.
Plant all spring flowering bulbs now, so they can send out roots and get established before the ground totally freezes.
The rule of thumb: Plant bulbs at a depth of 3 times the size of the bulb.
Look online for new-to-you options of flowers that come from bulbs. Try setting out garlic, onions or shallots for an edible treat for next June.
Water all recent plantings until the ground freezes. Water evergreens, since we have had a dry fall. New plantings and evergreens will need the additional water reserves to make it through the winter season.
Mulch after the ground freezes to minimize fluctuations in soil temperatures and protect plants from “freeze-thaw” damage that may occur when the top layer of soil thaws and the lower levels remain frozen.
Prevent winter damage to garden “hardware” by draining and storing garden hoses and irrigation equipment. Be aware of draining and turning water off to outside hose bibs. Bring in pots and garden art to protect from winter elements. If possible, evaluate and clean garden tools before you store for the winter. And remember to use or remove fuel before storing any power tools for a long period of time.
Most of all, take time to enjoy the colors of the season.
For more information, contact the Virginia Cooperative Extension Horticulture Help Desk at 24 Pelham St., Warrenton, Va. 20186; telephone: 540-341-7950, ext. 1, or email at www.fc-mg.org.