With the sun hanging low in the southern sky and frost beginning to appear more regularly on roofs and lawns, autumn in the Pacific Northwest is gradually eroding, soon to be replaced with winter. As your garden goes to sleep for winter and you prepare to store your tools for a season’s rest, here are a few final tasks to accomplish around the yard this month.
First, it’s not too late to feed your lawn one last time for the year. October gave us more than our normal amount of sunshine and seasonably-warm weather, so your lawn likely grew quite a bit in the last month. If you put on your winter blend fertilizer in late September or early October, I would recommend re-applying one more time sometime yet this month.
By now, grass is slowing down with growing above ground, redirecting its energy to root development and nutrient storage for the winter months. Scotts Turf Builder Winterguard lawn food is the perfect formulation for feeding this time of year, with a blend of nutrients designed to build strong roots and keep a lawn healthy through whatever cold weather, rain, and snow winter has to offer.
Second, now is the time to cut down most of your deciduous perennials (those that die down to the ground each year) for winter. Depending on who you ask, some experts recommend waiting until spring to trim back perennials, and I agree with that in some cases, but for most deciduous perennials like hostas, black-eyed susans, and the like, I choose to cut them back in fall. By my reasoning, I would rather remove the foliage now and clean up any insect eggs or fungus spores that might overwinter in the dead leaves rather than wait until spring and start the year with problems I could have avoided.
Now, there are exceptions to my recommendations. One major exception in the “deciduous perennial” category is echinacea, or coneflowers. If you’ve ever struggled to overwinter echinacea, it might be because you’re pruning in the fall. Echinacea have hollow stems, and if you cut them back in autumn, you essentially leave the plant with any number of “straws” for water to collect in over winter, rotting out the base of the plant. For that reason, I recommend pruning echinacea only after new growth begins to emerge in spring.
As for the other category of perennials—namely evergreen or semi-evergreen varieties, I never recommend pruning these in fall. For lavender, prune in spring to remove dead branches, then again after blooming in mid- to late summer. Hellebores, which flower in winter and early spring, can be pruned as needed after blooming. And heuchera can be pruned in early spring after new leaves begin to emerge.
Third, November is a good time to prune your rose bushes back for winter to avoid damage from strong winter winds. Sometime this month, simply cut your roses back by half; you can thin out and shape your roses with a closer eye in early spring.
Finally, keep your garden tools in good shape by taking time before storing them for winter to clean and oil any metal surfaces and sharpen the blades of pruners and shovels. A clean, sharp, rust-free shovel and set of pruners will last for years to come; blades encrusted with dirt and rust in spring will only cause frustration and extra work.
Before we know it, winter will be here, and with it, a season of rest in the garden. Enjoy the last hours spent with fingers in the dirt this fall, and then pat yourself on the back for a job well done!