By Viki Eierdam
Winter is all about layering, catching up after a busy summer and feeding the soul from a pantry stocked with home-canned goods and a freezer full of garden vegetables. Before you burrow in, apply these principles to your outdoor spaces and get a jump start on next year.
Keeping the carpet green
Even with the trend towards smaller lawns, grass typically takes up the most ground surface for property owners. To keep it looking nice through winter and give it a jump start on spring, Steve Miller, owner of Miller Landscaping, offered a few key maintenance essentials.
• Fertilize by the numbers. It’s important to use a low nitrogen fertilizer (the first number) with a fairly high amount of potassium (the last number). Nitrogen promotes leaf and stem growth while potassium is an overall plant health nutrient that strengthens the lawn to withstand cold weather conditions.
• Mow low. The recommended height in late fall is two inches. Snow accumulation encourages snow mold which is a fungus that thrives under lawns blanketed with snow for multiple days.
• Rake up leaves. Although leaves provide excellent organic matter for gardens (see below), left on grass and bushes, they will suffocate the lawn and plants like heather. Unraked leaves can even cause bug problems and root rot around the base of trees.
• Pruning. With so many different kinds of bushes, trees and hedges, it’s best to consult a professional. For shrubs, best practice will depend on whether the bush is flowering or not. For trees, Miller recommends pruning before the leaves drop. Although it’s easier to see all the branches of a tree when the tree is bare, that rule of thumb disrupts the natural food storage process (i.e. there won’t be the right amount of food in the tree’s roots to produce a healthy canopy of leaves in the spring).
Tucking in for a long winter’s nap
For gardeners, preparing the vegetable plot for winter is as essential as planting, watering and harvesting the bounty.
Karen Palmer, master gardener with the Washington State University (WSU) Clark County Extension, shared tips to make the transition from active summer gardening to winter seed catalog perusing as efficient as possible.
• Harvest the remaining crops.
• Recordkeeping. While the plants are still in the ground, take some time to write down where each crop was planted this year. Next year, when crops are rotated as recommended, this will make it easier to plot out a new configuration.
• Personal inventory. This is also a good time to note what vegetables you liked and didn’t, what you’d like to plant more of/less of next year, what grew well and what yielded poorly.
• Clean it up. Remove all plant debris, particularly if any plants showed signs of disease. Clean leaves and vines from all structures (e.g. stakes, baskets, trellises). Structures can then be stored in the garden beds. Pulling spent plants doesn’t have to be done all at once. If you think a few more tomatoes will ripen or that pumpkin patch is still giving, leave them in.
• Amend the soil. Fall is a good time to add lime to the garden because it will work down to root level by next spring. Lime transforms our area’s acidic soil into the neutral soil that vegetables prefer. For example, blossom end rot in tomatoes, peppers and squash is a sign of calcium deficiency caused by acidic soil.
• Plant cover crops. November is a little cold, but for next year, consider planting cereal rye, winter wheat, winter oats, fava beans or phacelia between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. Cover crops inhibit weeds, stave off erosion and can be worked into the soil as organic matter in the spring.
• Use those leaves. After raking up leaves from the yard, cover garden beds with a nice thick layer of them. This is another way to hold down weeds and becomes organic matter in the spring.
• Winter crops. Chard, kale and leeks can often give through the winter. Palmer harvests her kale a few leaves at a time and pulls them out when she plants new kale the following spring. Now is also a good time to plant garlic and shallots for a July/August harvest. Lettuce and spinach will grow until the area receives a hard freeze.