Ann Wright: November in the garden
Fall – complete with striking red, orange and yellow hued leaves has been ushered in with early dry conditions and colder nights – now, welcome rain. The fall colors did not disappoint this year; the trees and shrubs in our area have been beautiful!
With the much-needed rain, there seems so much to do in the garden that wasn’t done earlier this fall. A check list of garden tasks is growing, some of which will need to wait until the weather settles. At the top of the list: clean up and cover up.
Fall cleanup is essential to help prevent disease and control pests. Leaves and garden debris from recent storms will be composted, as well as dry, fallen fruit. Spent pepper, tomato and herbs plants will be cut to the ground and composted. Raised beds not planted with cool season vegetables will be mulched with straw; dahlia tubers will be carefully dug up and divided. Dead and broken branches will be pruned from trees with heavier pruning to be done when more leaves have dropped. (The winter dormant period generally occurs after leaves have fallen but before bud break in the spring.)
On a sunny dry day, peach trees will be sprayed for peach leaf curl, with a fixed copper fungicide solution. Horticultural oil will be sprayed on my plum tree to try to get a handle early on aphid and mite infestations. This will be repeated from beginning of dormancy (now) until just before the flower buds begin to open next spring.
Preparation of garden beds for winter includes covering bare soil with mulch – leaves, pine needles, straw, whatever is available. A layer of compost or dry manure with a straw layer to cover it will continue to decompose slowly over the winter to enrich your soil, attract earthworms, and feed the beneficial microbes needed for healthy spring crops. In some of the open beds, cover crops will be planted to help compete with next season’s weeds as well as providing a layer of “green manure.” Cover crops will also help prevent soil erosion and increase organic matter in the soil. Winter blend cover crop seed is widely available — winter vetch, peas and clover are examples of cover crop seed which may be found in some seed mixes.
Now is also a good time to direct sow wildflower seed – especially if the area has been weeded and soil loosened. Bulbs that have been chilling in the refrigerator since last spring (such as narcissus, tulips or hyacinths) can be planted now or set in pots for winter forcing. Garlic, bare-root artichokes, and onion bulbs can also be planted now; sow seeds of peas, parsley and spinach.
Prepare soil for future planting of bare-root trees and plants such as berries, fruit trees or roses, which are largely available in January and February. The good soaking rain we’ve had will make work easier – dig, weed and amend the soil if needed to prepare for plantings later this winter. Shop for trees, shrubs and vines now for fall color next year.
Cleanup also applies to garden tools. When getting ready to put tools away, use a wire brush, putty knife or steel wool to remove clumps of dirt and mud adhered to the tool. Sap is easily removed with turpentine or tar remover. Wash the tools with the hose and allow them to dry thoroughly. If rust is visible, clean it off. Use steel wool or a wire bush – rust is tough on tools! Next, oil metal parts to protect them from moisture. A coating of machine oil is fine, but vegetable oil is just as effective and less toxic. A few drops of 3-in-ONE multipurpose oil to the pivot of shears and loppers will keep them working smoothly. For tools with wood handles, sand lightly with sandpaper to remove rough spots and splinters then wipe the wood with linseed oil.
The Master Gardeners of Nevada County have completed the season of public workshops. We have missed being in person at the Demonstration Garden, and we are grateful for those who tuned into our virtual workshops. Many of our workshops were recorded, and are available on the website (https://ncmg.ucanr.org/ , on the left-side menu, under “Workshop Recordings”). From Compost to Water Wise Gardening, there are many topics available to view. Workshops for 2022 will be posted soon. We are also looking forward to adding some new faces to our ranks. The Master Gardener training will start in January and after weekly classes in Grass Valley, new Master Gardeners will be on board early in May, 2022!
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener
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