Apply Animal Manure to Vegetable Garden
After your vegetable garden's given its last for the season, or in parts not planted with still-productive cold weather crops, shovel some well-rotted animal manure on the soil. Some say plow it under now for spring planting. Another option is to put hot manure on top, let it decompose there over winter, then turn it under come spring.
Seed In Green Manure
Use fallow winter garden space to the max. Plant green manure which will be next season's fertilizer. Green manures are legumes or small grain crops that are plowed under while still in the green stage. Winter green manure crops include rye, wheat, barley and winter vetch. Summer green manure crops include Sudan grass, soybeans and cowpeas. Take advantage of Mother Nature's cycles. Plant a winter green manure crop now. In early spring, turn the plants under. Wait three weeks, then plant summer vegetables.
Cut Back Asters, Lobelias, Peonies
Feel free to cut back asters and lobelias that have finished blooming. Clip off the aster's faded flower stalks at their base, leaving the basal foliage at the plant's crown, that is the green leaves at the soil level. Cut back lobelia stems below the last spent flower. Leave green stem and leaves to feed the roots until a hard freeze. Clip away dead peony stems and foliage. Sprinkle slow-release fertilizer as directed beyond the peony's crown.
Look Twice at Dead Stems and Leaves
Many stems and leaves are dying back naturally as plants go dormant for the winter. In some cases though, dead plant material may indicate a disease or insect infestation. Dead or dying plant parts that look different than the rest - darker, withered, cracked, gray, mushy, eaten, with holes (borer, beetle?) - could be carrying a damaging infestation. Dispose of unusual looking dead material in the municipal trash, not your compost pile or the municipal lawn/garden debris pickup. Proper disposal reduces risk of spreading a problem.
Get Ready for First Frost
Temperatures are so variable now - 40s at night, 70s in the daytime. I like to think warm and sunny, so sometimes I get caught with my protective fabric NOT down. If you want to prolong some of your plants' lives until a hard frost, have a blanket of spun polyester ready. They're sometimes called winter blankets or protective row covers. You can simply place the material over plants and fasten down the edges and corners. Or make a frame, attach material to the frame and place over plants.
Bring tender potted plants indoors.