Putting the Garden to Sleep
October 29, 2020
As November approaches we spend the last days of autumn putting our gardens to bed for the winter. Many gardeners I've met over the years cut short this part of garden work mostly because they are tired by season's end and tend to cut corners or avoid the tasks altogether. I, however, quite enjoy the last weeks of garden work. Maybe it's the maternal “take care of my babies and tuck them in” instinct that drives me. There is something soothing about knowing all my plants and trees are protected for the long cold months ahead.
The chores are simple but when done save time and money. And even more importantly save the more delicate plants that were thriving all summer. First comes weeding and removing dead branches and twigs. This helps with preventing disease and insect infestation (garden pests look for dead wood in which to overwinter). Once the areas are cleaned, a layer of straw around things like fruit bushes or rosemary plants help them survive frost and ice. Our favorite roses and fig trees also get winter jackets to keep an air of warmth around them. All spent annuals are removed and added to compost bins (remember to first remove the root mass). Now is also the time to plant and replenish any bulbs. Pots and containers are cleaned and stacked in a sheltered area to prevent cracking. Hoses and outdoor furniture also should be wrapped and put in protected areas or sheds. This is the month we take down the hammocks (John's favorite spot on the homestead), wash and pack them away for the spring.
Another task I do every fall is the cleaning of all the garden tools. Some people feel it is not necessary but I think taking a bit of time to do this has so many benefits. Simply scrub them (ridding them of dirt and rust) and wipe them down with mineral oil. This not only prevents the spread of disease but makes the instruments last much longer. Sharpen blades, tighten any loose screws and you are done. I promise taking shiny well-oiled tools out of storage in the spring is a pleasure.
We have a lot of bird feeders and baths on the property and a few things have to be done for them as well. I put away the more fragile glass feeders and take out quite a few suet cages. All our tiny winter birds flock to those suets daily providing us with much entertainment. We fill the steel garbage can that we use for bird feed to the brim with a mix of black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn and thistle. Peanuts can be added too if you don't mind the mischievous squirrels joining the party. We keep a few bird baths active all winter as well. If you add a bath heater it prevents freezing. It's hard for our feathered friends to find fresh water in frozen winter months so we try to make sure they have access to some. It's lovely to see them take a warm bath on a sunny winter day.
Lastly, my favorite part. Once the gardens are down for the winter and the cold sets in, the landscape becomes clean. The bony structure of the garden beds is clear. It's a tranquil time and we enjoy walking over the property while making plans. Looking for areas that need more color, spaces that need more ground cover or vines that need training is a constant task. Noticing holes in the bed designs that need filling is more obvious this time of year. Seeing our planting mistakes and contemplating ways to correct them is also much easier while the garden sleeps. It's not only a productive task, it is relaxing.
Like everything else about gardening, winterizing is a labor of love. As October ends we hope everyone takes a moment to appreciate the constantly changing rhythms of nature that make everyday so special. May the stillness of the coming winter bring us all a peaceful interlude from the difficulties of this year. Here's hoping the quiet of a snowy season brings serenity and happy blessings to all of us.