In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2007
Regional Report

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While going about chores, don't forget to take a peek at the common witch hazel that is blooming right now!

A Few Fall Tasks

Some of us have had a frost, some of us haven't yet. But the end of the gardening season is near, and it always energizes me to clean up the garden. I still have plenty of healthy greens growing, so I won't be able to do the entire garden at once. I even had a few tomato plants survive under covers, so I'm hoping they will ripen their fruit. One can only eat so many green tomato pickles and fried green tomatoes.

The Vegetable Garden
This week I harvested the last of my beets and carrots, and cleaned up the remaining tomato, pepper, and basil plants that looked so pathetic with their drooping, black foliage. I pulled back the straw mulch and we're top-dressing the beds with a couple of inches of compost. Now they look clean and healthy and ready for planting.

The garlic is in, as are the spinach seeds. I had such great luck with both of these this past season that I wanted to make sure to get them in on time.

The Herb Bed
I spent some time in the herb bed, pulling stray weeds and cutting back the perennial herbs. I put clippings of tarragon, sage, and thyme in the food dehydrator to give us freshly dried herbs for our winter kitchen. I will top-dress the bed with shredded leaves in a few weeks once the leaves are down. I don't add compost to this bed because it might make the soil too rich for the herbs. In poorer soil they produce much more pungent foliage.

The Perennial Garden
The perennial garden takes a little more time to clean up, especially since I want to move several plants. Over the years, the surrounding trees have encroached, making the bed much shadier. Many of the sun-loving perennials are not doing well, so I need to move them out to a sunnier spot. However, I need to find a free weekend to do all the moving since every plant that needs moving has another plant in its place. I want to move my huge delphiniums but they go where the yarrow is now. The yarrow will move to a spot inhabited by bee balm now. It's an unending chain of events that will take a good bit of time.

Meanwhile, I've gotten rid of the most unsightly debris, like slimy hosta foliage. I disposed of phlox and monarda stems and foliage since both plants are prone to powdery mildew. Removing the leaves at least gives them a fighting chance for next year by getting rid of overwintering fungal spores.

My iris are still looking quite nice, and I will wait to remove their foliage until early December. I want to let any adult borers that may still be flying around lay their eggs on the foliage. Later on, eliminating every trace of foliage gets rid of iris borer eggs, leaving my plants clean next year.

Winter Focal Points
I do leave plants with prominent seed heads standing. Sedum, baptisia, and astilbe dusted with fresh snow are a wonderful relief from the monotony of bare beds. Aster family plants, such as black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis, and shasta daisies, are not only beautiful in the snow, but their seeds are welcome food for birds and other wildlife.

My absolute favorites to leave standing through the winter are the ornamental grasses. They really are at their best in winter, after cold weather has eliminated all the visual competition. They turn tawny gold and look magnificent with snow filtering softly through the foliage. Since they are fairly late starters in spring, there's plenty of time to cut them back then.

So, with a top-dressing of compost and a 2-inch layer of shredded leaves, the perennial garden will be ready for winter, even if I'm not. At least when I'm captive during the cold, I will be able to look out on an attractive perennial border and imagine the beauty it will produce next summer.


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