If you are not planning to grow winter hardy vegetables, consider planting a cover crop. Cover crops help manage soil erosion, improve soil quality and control weeds and pests. When it's time to prepare the garden in the spring, you'll have a natural "green manure" already in place. Winter rye and wheat are common cover crops that can be planted in empty garden beds from September to November.
Any plant that is no longer blooming or producing can be removed from your garden beds and potted containers. Pull out the spent plants and toss them in your compost pile. Cut back any dead or diseased limbs from your ornamental shrubs.
If you let your houseplants vacation on the front porch over the summer and fall, it's time to bring them indoors. When the overnight temperatures start to dip into the 40s, start the transition. If the plant struggled all season, get rid of the plant. The last thing you want is to bring in a diseased plant. Inspect your plants for any pests. A simple way to get rid those creepy crawlies is to submerge the entire plant in a bucket of water with a few squirts of castile soap. Let the plant sit completely submerged for 10 minutes, then pull out the plant and let it drain.
When you rake your fallen leaves, don't toss them! Save the leaves to use as an insulating mulch for your planted perennials. Chop up your leaves by running your lawn mower over them. Rake up the chopped leaves and add a four- to six-inch layer of mulch around any of your shrubs and trees. This will help keep the plants' roots warm and moist over the winter.
Give your garden tools a good cleaning before you pack them away. Start by brushing off any caked dirt with a stiff brush. If the handles are wood and have lost their protective finish, you can restore the handles. To restore weathered tool handles, start by sanding with a fine grit piece of sandpaper. Apply a liberal amount of boiled linseed oil with an old rag or T-shirt (until the tool handle does not soak up any more oil) and let it dry.
With your garden chores done for the year, you can put your garden to bed. These simple steps will help you get a head start on your garden next spring. Relax, make a steamy cup of hot chocolate, and enjoy reading seed catalogs until next year.
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