With autumn underway and winter up ahead, gardeners still can grab their garden gloves and get to work.
"Most people think summer’s over" and that there’s not as much to do in the garden, says Paula Levihn-Coon, a Travis County master gardener who gave a recent hourlong presentation called Month to Month Gardening: Getting Ready for Winter. However, "this is the best time for me" to garden, Levihn-Coon says; "There’s so many things to plant, fewer bugs; it’s cooler."
The talk was part of the Hands on in the Garden programs put on by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, with volunteers from the Williamson County Master Gardeners, says Kate Whitney, horticulture extension agent for Williamson County.
Levihn-Coon recommended two books to help keep on track with gardening tasks: "Texas Month-by-Month Gardening: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year" by Robert "Skip" Richter, and the Travis County Master Gardeners Association’s "Garden Guide for Austin and Vicinity."
Levihn-Coon says she drew information from those books, as well as other resources, to compile a to-do list for the months ahead.
Overall, she says, "Preparing soil is always something you should pay attention to. … If you don’t have good soil, you won’t have good gardens." Those preparations can include mulching outdoor tropical plants, planting cover crops before the first frost, and collecting and mowing fall leaves, according to her PowerPoint.
All those leaves that have fallen to the ground are a great resource for gardening, such as making mulch or a compost pile, she says.
"I used to take a truck" to collect the leaves that people had set out, she says.
By mowing the leaves on the ground, she says, "it’ll decompose faster" in smaller pieces. Use those finely ground leaves for mulch, she recommends, "because plain leaves can pack down." It also saves gardeners from having to buy mulch. "I’m a big advocate for not buying," she says.
Meanwhile, November can keep gardeners busy in other ways. Highlights include:
Those leaves collected also can be used to start a new compost pile.
Some cool-season vegetables can be planted; in November, those include carrots, chard, mustard, turnips, radishes, spinach and lettuce, according to the PowerPoint.
Also, through early November, it’s not too late to plant strawberries, she says; if they have already been planted, then go ahead and fertilize them.
As well, "November is an amazing time to plant bulbs," she says; that’s when gardeners should complete planting spring flowering bulbs (with a few exceptions).
In addition, some bulbs — such as daffodil bulbs — can be bought for "indoor forcing" (which means making a plant to flower "under artificially imposed conditions," according to www.ladybug.uconn.edu).
Rose lovers will also be happy to get planting; otherwise, they can get the rose beds ready to be planted in the coming months.
Another November job is cleaning the annual and perennial beds. Gardeners can "mix in an inch of compost to prepare the soil for spring planting," according to the handout. As well, putting on mulch can help control weeds, it says.
Also, "it’s a good time to look at your lawn tools in general," Levihn-Coon says, to do maintenance or assess the repairs needed. For those who wait until closer to springtime, when many other gardeners and landscapers are getting their equipment serviced, "you might have to wait a long time," she says.
In addition, "Clean and sharpen all hand tools and cover all metal parts with a light coat of oil to prevent rust before storing for the winter," the handout says.
It’s also "a time to move woody ornamentals if you don’t like where they are," she says. However, it’s "better not to do your deep pruning of woody plants" then.
Gardeners might consider getting row covers ready before a frost, she says, adding that different methods can be used, such as tomato cages wrapped with row cover held on with clothespins.
"Be ready, because the frost is coming," she says.
While bracing for that first onset, go ahead and pick tomatoes that are nearly mature to be stored (or eaten), the handout says.
As December rolls around, gardeners still can stay active. Among the highlights:
It’s good to water plants before it freezes outside (to help prevent those plants from freezing), Levihn-Coon says: "You can probably get an extra week or two (out of your summer plants) if you water them before a freeze." And, of course, it’s still all right to continue getting those beds in shape for spring planting.
Then, as the colder weather sets in, gardeners might consider starting a garden journal for the upcoming year, she advises.
"It doesn’t have to be anything fancy," Levihn-Coon says. It can be just a three-ring binder. Not only is a journal nice to look back on later to see your successes and failures, but notes jotted down in it can also help gardeners from "making the same mistake twice," she says.