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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Get fall chores done before snow flies

Our native vine maples are particularly bright this year. Their fall colors can range from yellow to orange, red and even purple. Their fallen leaves make a great mulch for garden beds when run through the lawn mower.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
Our native vine maples are particularly bright this year. Their fall colors can range from yellow to orange, red and even purple. Their fallen leaves make a great mulch for garden beds when run through the lawn mower. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

The gardening season is winding down. The leaves and needles will soon be on the ground, and frost in most places has put an end to the vegetables. That is unless you are overwintering some carrots and parsnips in the ground for an early spring sweet treat long before we can plant anything else.

Here are some of the things I’m doing to settle the garden into winter.

Fall is the best time to dig and divide peonies and oriental poppies. Wait for a good hard frost and then dig the plants up gently by working a shovel around the clumps. Be careful not to damage the growing buds on the crowns.

Separate peony roots so there are several pink buds on each clump and replant so that the buds are at the soil surface. For poppies, dig 8-10 inches out from the clump and gently lift it out of the ground. Use a sharp knife to cut the clump into sections and replant immediately.

Many late summer blooming perennials can be dug and divided now. The ground will stay warm enough that they will start growing roots in preparation for spring. For spring bloomers, wait until they finish blooming in the spring and then divide them.

It’s too late and cold to treat weeds at this point. Most herbicides need 70-degree days so the weed leaves can draw in the chemical. However, now is a great time to go through your beds and pull any weeds you find. Once the weeding is done, mulch the area with 2-3 inches of leaf or pine needle mulch and your weeding chores in the spring will be minimal.

Mow lawns one last time to pick up grass and any fallen leaves or needles. The resulting mulch can be spread back on the beds as mentioned above or added to a compost pile. The grass is going dormant at this point so wait until spring to do any fertilization.

Now is the best time to get spring bulbs and garlic in the ground.

For garlic, plant it 2 inches deep in fertile soil and after the ground freezes, cover it with 2-3 inches of mulch generated by your mowing for winter protection. Spring bulbs should be planted about three times their height deep in average soil. Be sure to mark where you planted them with stakes, so you don’t dig into them in the spring. If squirrels are a problem, lay some chicken wire over the bulb bed and anchor it down to keep the little thieves from feasting on your bulbs.

Lastly, take some time to just sit in your garden. On warmer afternoons you might hear the last cricket slowly chirping its last hurrah of fall. The smoky-winged ash aphids are still flying about. Sit where you can see the birds picking through the sunflower heads for a feast. I like to collect my sunflower stalks and tie them up to a post for the birds to clean out.

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Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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