Gardening for the Season

Cleaning up and clearing out.

by Charlie Thigpen

Raking Leaves

In November, colder weather is beginning to settle in, and you can feel old man winter sneaking up behind us. This month our gardens will change dramatically as a hard frost or freezing temperatures knock the spring and summer bloomers back to the ground.

Although the warm season perennials are getting ready to hibernate, gardeners need to put on an extra layer of clothes and work in the garden. It’s time to get ready for winter and for the holiday season.

Falling Foliage

Autumn’s glorious leaves on dogwoods, maples, oaks, poplars and other hardwoods begin to loose their grip and drift to the ground. They carpet our lawns and gardens like a multi-colored blanket. Whether you chose to rake them up or blow them away, be sure to remove them frequently so they won’t build up and smother your turf and plants. Keeping walkways and drives clean is also critical for safety. Wet leaves on walks can be slick, and leaf-covered surfaces make it hard to navigate in low light. Removed leaves can be placed in a compost bin or used as mulch in natural areas, so don’t waste or throw away this valuable and abundant resource.

Clean Up, Cutback and Plant

After Jack Frost nips on your nose and on your plants, it’s time to start cleaning out the garden. After a few frost or freezes, perennials such as daisies, day lilies, iris, hostas, phlox and lantana will begin to turn crunchy brown and wither making gardens look untidy. Clip these perennials back using sharp clippers. Cut them back to three or four inches in height so you can locate them if you’re going to plant bulbs, pansies, violas or any other cold season plants around them. Perennials that have outgrown their boundaries can be dug, divided and moved to other locations. If you have a surplus of divided perennials you can pot up a few and give them to family and friends.

Seasonal Plantings

If you haven’t planted your violas or pansies yet, it’s not too late. Plant these popular flowering annuals in beds and containers for color all winter and into spring. Extended hard freezes will slow these plants down, but they will quickly recover.  And don’t forget to plant snapdragons. There are many different types of snaps, from the low-growing trailing varieties such as Luminaire, to the taller selections such as Liberty and Rocket. If you want really tall, elegant spring flowers,  plant foxgloves now. The foxglove will grow little during the winter, but in March and April they will begin to stretch and bloom. The clusters of bell shaped blooms will rise to about three feet in height and produce a showy backdrop for any border.

Bring in House Houseplants

Don’t forget to bring in the houseplants that have been set outdoors for that summer rejuvenation. Check plants for insects and groom them before bringing them inside. For safety’s sake, go ahead and spray them with neem oil to make sure any bugs-in-hiding are eliminated. Make sure you have saucers under plants so they may be easily watered indoors throughout the winter.

Decorate for the Season

It’s time to get into the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Times are tough, money is tight and we’re all as busy as ever, but we should carry on with traditions. Decorating doesn’t have to be a budget buster, and it makes your house look better and makes everybody feel festive. For Thanksgiving, use natural items such as pumpkins and gourds grouped with showy fall leaves for entries or as a centerpiece. For Christmas use pinecones, holly, nandina berries and fresh fruit such as apples and lemons on wreaths, mantles and tabletops.

As the temperatures drop we shouldn’t hibernate and get the winter blues. The cooler weather and changing of the seasons can invigorate us. In the winter, many plants will survive and even thrive in our area. Cleaning your landscape and decorating your home can be an uplifting experience and, with a fresh new look, we can gather with family and friends and be thankful for our time spent together and for our many blessings. •

Charlie Thigpen is a horticulturalist and the owner of Garden Gallery in Pepper Place.

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