Put your garden to bed in the fall

A checklist to get your spring off to a good start

The harvest is in, the growing season is winding down, and it's time to start thinking about getting the garden cleaned up and ready for next season. Remember, the more work you do now, the less you have to do come spring.

Here's a to-do list:

• Now is the ideal time to save seeds for planting next year, or for sharing with friends. Harvest ripe seeds, air dry, and store out of light in an airtight container.

• Clean all debris out of your garden beds. Do not put the debris back into your compost if you had any insects or fungal diseases this summer. Or make sure that they compost hot enough to destroy pests and diseases.

• Cut back to the ground perennials that have turned brown, but leave any that might add winter interest, such as grasses. Cut back only tender tips of roses, then mound up with topsoil after all leaves have dropped.

I do not prune most shrubs at this time; I wait until spring and then prune back to shape according to winter dieback. The exception would be to prune branches that have grown way out of line.

• Weed diligently. I know it's hard. You will be glad come spring.

• Divide (or plant) iris and peonies, and also spring flowering bulbs that have become crowded. You can also divide daylilies, as long as you have about two weeks before the ground freezes so they can develop new roots.

• Fall is great for planting, with warm days, cool nights, and more natural moisture. Make new beds, move things around, or just add new plants. Edging gardens now also gives you a head start on spring.

• Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils about the middle of October, when it is not warm enough for the bulbs to start growing. Don't worry, they will make nice root growth in the cool weather. Be sure to mark where you've planted them.

• Add a half-inch of compost over the tops of all garden beds. It looks great and adds nutrients to the soil.

• White pine branches make great winter mulch for perennials. I like white pine because it is easy to remove in the spring and doesn't drop its needles, as do short-needled evergreens like hemlock. Apply after hard frost.

Wooden A-frame structures are good for protecting fragile shrubs or those in the path of snow falling from the roof.

• Don't prune spring flowering shrubs or trees such as forsythia or crabapple. Prune just after flowering.

• Use Wilt-Pruf or a similar pine-resin-based product on broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons to prevent cold and moisture-loss damage. It is best to spray after a hard frost; a warmish day in November is perfect.

• Note plants that have great fall foliage and plan locations to plant them next year.

• Also note other interesting features such as bark and plant forms and plan to add for winter interest.

• This is the time to take cuttings of annuals and tropicals for next summer's garden, if you wish to keep them over the winter.

• Once your garden is put to bed, relax and enjoy the rest of fall!

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