Time to Look Toward Winter

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 newsletter by OCMGA Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka. The information is just as relevant today as it was then.

This edition of our newsletter brings us to the end of the harvest season and preparations for fall. Hopefully all our readers had a successful season. It would be fun and helpful to hear from anyone who had great success with some vege- tables or fruit as well as frustrations encountered in growing certain crops. I didn’t get our garden planted until the first week of June, but surprisingly it has pro- duced very well so far. The tomatoes look good at this writing with few signs of disease so far! The squash borer has not made an appearance in the zucchini, so guess what we are sharing with others?

On the other hand, the weeds have had a ball carpeting the rows between vegeta- bles. If I had one full week to concentrate on weeding maybe that issue would be solved. In the Volunteer Vibe, which I received August 19th, Diana Alfuth, Pierce Co. UW-Extension Horticulture Educator, gave some excellent suggestions about dealing with weeds. I know the soil should be mulched, so the seeds don’t have light to grow. It also helps to not till the soil more than necessary because it brings up dormant weed seeds. I have the mulch, but need something called time to get the job done. I have learned that at this time of year a gardener is almost like a juggler. Weed, mulch, harvest, preserve. What do I do first? I’m a big believer in harvesting and canning as soon as possible. That means the canning gets done before the weeding. My hat is off to all of you who have battled the weeds and won!

Here are guidelines for the vegetable/herb garden in late fall taken from the Madison Area Master Gardener’s Association garden journal which is no longer published. The tips are still valuable.

Week 1

  • Remove newly set tomato blossoms and new growth because fruit won’t have time to mature.
  • Sow annual ryegrass or oats for winter cover and place green manure in beds that won’t be planted until late spring.
  • Remove all weeds from garden before they go to seed

Week 2

  • Remove the growing points at the top of Brussels sprout stems so bottom sprouts will reach maturity.

Week 3

  • Dig and pot parsley, chives, and tender herbs for transfer indoors to sunny window.

Week 4

  • Harvest carrots, beets, and turnips before first frost kills foliage.
  • Gather squash, pumpkins, and gourds when ripe and before damaged by frost. Leave 2-inch stem on vegetable for better storage.
  • Clear garden beds immediately after harvest. Destroy any diseased plants by burning, composting in a hot pile, or sealing in containers for disposal.

Week 1

  • Prepare vegetable garden soil for early spring planting. Remove old stalks to prevent insect and disease problems next year. Spread manure, incorporate into soil and mulch with straw.
  • Rejuvenate rhubarb by dividing into quarters and replanting.
  • Mulch brussel sprouts to prolong harvest.
  • Water plants well for more cold tolerance.

Week 3

  • Plant garlic in rich, well-drained soil five inches apart and one to two inches deep. Select larger cloves for large bulbs. Break bulbs apart into individual cloves. The end of the clove that was broken from the bulb should be planted down. Cover with five to six inches of straw mulch.
  • Plant Jerusalem artichokes. (Note; I have never planted these. Has anyone tried them?)


  • Mulch carrots, parsnips, and leeks with a foot of straw or marsh hay for winter digging. Mark rows with tall stakes.
  • Mulch asparagus bed with chopped leaves or straw to protect crowns from frost.
  • Drain gas from tiller.
  • Harvest the last of the hardy vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale. These will continue to produce until a hard frost below 25 degrees F.


RawGarlicBenefitsHeaderEvery year I say I’m going to plant garlic in my garden, and every year (so far) I have forgotten to do it. Because it needs to be planted in the Fall and overwintered here, it’s not something that I readily think about when putting my garden to bed. This year, though, I’m going to remember! (Famous last words)

Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops. It was fed to the builders of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt in the belief that it gave them strength. Garlic may repel vampires but it attracts leeches. Experiments show leeches take 14.9 seconds to attach themselves to a hand covered with garlic, but 44.9 seconds to such blood from a clean one. In view of this, it may be wise to know that a recommended way to get the smell of garlic out of your hands is to rub them with salt and lemon juice and rinse; to banish garlic breath, chew on fresh parsley or a coffee bean.

The average American eats over 3 pounds of garlic a year and the habit is clearly an old one. The city of Chicago is named after garlic: “chicagaoua” was the Indian word for wild garlic.

  • The word ‘garlic’ occurs twenty-one times in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and only four times in the entire works of Shakespeare.
  • The longest continuous string of garlic contained 1,600 garlic bulbs and was almost 120 feet long.
  • The term for garlic hater: alliumphobe

If, like me, you’d like to grow your own garlic, refer to one of our earlier blog posts for instruction:

Small Trees with Big Fall Color

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension


Carpus caroliniana

The color of trees and shrubs this time of year is one of the best things about fall. Maples are often the stars of the show, but some small-scale trees can bring the colorful leaves closer and light up the mid-level of your garden. One native tree hardy to Zone 3 that thrives in partial shade and moist to average soil is musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana). Its fall color ranges from yellow to orange to red orange. It grows 20-30 feet tall. Musclewood, sometimes called blue beech or hornbeam, has interesting sinewy-looking bark (hence the name) and ornamental seedpods. Local Wisconsin nurseryman Mike Yanny of Johnson’s Nursery and JN Plant Selections introduced a lovely variety, Firespire (‘JN Upright’), with a tight, upright growth habit and red-orange fall color.

Amelanchier, or serviceberry, trees are Wisconsin natives, hardy to Zone 4 with a similar range of fall color and height as musclewood. Many cultivars are available and most are multi-stemmed plants. They display best fall color in sun, but tolerate some shade and need a moist to average soil. They sport beautiful clusters of white flowers in spring, bird-attracting fruits in summer and silvery bark and an elegant form in winter.

Eastern fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a native multi-stemmed tree hardy to Zone 4, growing to about 15 feet tall. It prefers full sun to part shade in soils with adequate moisture. Fringetree bears large panicles of confetti-like, white, lightly fragrant flowers in spring, shiny green leaves in summer and a good deep golden fall color.

Planting Your Fall Vegetable Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

80777823000000_169_1024Are you enjoying fresh vegetables from your garden as much as I am? I love to pick tender green beans from my garden to steam for dinner, or how about a delicious Carprese Salad from those heirloom tomato gems that you planted from seed way back in March? Have you ever considered extending your culinary joy into the late fall? August is the perfect time to plant your cool weather vegetables and here are some tips to get you started.

Soil Prep:

Cool weather plants do not germinate well in warm soil. They will do best if you begin with prepping your soil by watering it well, then shading the soil from direct sun so the area will begin to cool down for a few days before sowing your seed.

What to Plant:

Consider kale, carrots, beets, arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, bush beans, summer squash (such as zucchini or patty pan) turnips, cilantro, collards, lettuce, radishes, and scallions to name a few. A rule of thumb is produce with edible roots and leaves (rather than flowers) are some of the hardiest choices. Also consider trying garlic which can be planted in the late fall for a spring harvest!

Read the labels to find varieties that require a shorter number of days to mature, or search for seeds that are rated for the fall growing season. It is a good rule of thumb to “count back” from the normal frost date, however you will want to take into consideration that days are getting shorter and temperatures are cooler, so add extra days to your calculation. Be patient with them because they are not going to grow as fast as in the warmer and longer days of spring.

Protect them:

Be prepared with old sheets, or hoops that are ready to cover them if a frost is predicted, although some of these such as carrots, beets, and kale are hardy enough to survive a mild frost.

Other benefits

Vegetables grown in late season have the luxury of not being attacked by pests, as many of the insects have already completed their lifecycles. And some such as crucifers, greens, and peas will taste even sweeter!

Where to buy seeds:

Often times the cupboard is bare at the local garden centers at this time of year. I like to order heirloom seeds from or try or  You will find some interesting varieties that will be fun to grow and harvest. Well, what are you waiting for? Get those seeds ordered, planted, and join me in the delight of growing your own vegetables late into the fall this year!

Harvesting and Storing Apples

by Lisa Johnson, Horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

apples-1164954_960_720Depending on the variety, apples ripen between early August and late October in Wisconsin. Harvest them when mature, but not ripe. Some clues to help gauge maturity are:

  • When seeds in the core turn from cream to tan to dark brown (sacrifice an apple to check).
  • Fruit is firm, but not hard, with a good taste and aroma. Immature fruits taste starchy and have little aroma.
  • Also, look for color changes. Apples color up first on the side facing the sun. Red varieties change from green to red as they mature, yellow apples go from pale green to yellow, and green apples change from bright green to light green.

Harvest apples carefully to avoid breaking off the fruit spurs they are borne on. Hold the apple in your palm (not fingertips to avoid bruising the fruit) and twist slightly while you pull. Don’t drop the fruit as you harvest, as it may bruise. Bruised fruit stores poorly and shortens the storage life of un-bruised fruit.

Ripening season is a good predictor for storage. Summer apples ripening prior to Labor Day are not good keepers because they only store a few days to two weeks. Use them quickly!

Fall ripening apples keep from one to five months, if harvested before they reach the peak of maturity. Cool them immediately after harvest for best results. If storing them short term, refrigerate at temperatures below 40 degrees, but above freezing. To store for longer periods, keep apples at 33 to 34 degrees and high humidity so they don’t dry out. Plastic bags with holes in them work well for this purpose. Check apples occasionally to make sure none are shriveling or starting to rot.

My Small Corner of the World – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

It was a perfect fall day in mid-November with a sunny sky and unusually high temperatures approaching 60 degrees. I walked along a road with majestic oaks bordering one side and a glassy lake on the other. It felt like I had the serene world to myself with only an occasional car passing by. As I continued on I came upon an older gentleman with pitch fork in hand standing near a pile of leaves that stretched to the edge of the woods. As I approached more closely I saw smoke rising from the dry leaves. He had set them on fire.

downloadSomewhat concerned, I stopped and exchanged pleasantries, then casually asked, “How will you keep it from spreading into the woods?” “I want it to go into the woods,” he said. Surprised, I asked why. His response: “Buckthorn. ” I had noticed the abundance of this invasive non-native plant and how it covered the entire forest understory. I had walked several miles on the trails of this particular property and it had clearly taken over. It was everywhere.

The gentleman began explaining how he had begun burning the forest edges and portions within the woods last year and had seen a marked improvement already. “It kills the young saplings and destroys some of the seeds and fruit,” he said. “Each year we’ll do a little more and hopefully one day we’ll get it under control. I suppose we’ll never get rid of it all, but that won’t stop me from trying. ” It seemed pretty overwhelming to me. The day I was there it looked like he had only burned a little less than an acre, and it bordered more than 500 acres beyond that.

It didn’t stop there; I had noticed on my drive to this little retreat that the unwanted undergrowth lined the forest edges for miles around. Appearing to be in his late 50’s, I imagined the day of no more buckthorn might not even happen in his lifetime at the rate he was going. Even if he could one day get a handle on his little corner of the world, the bordering landscape would continually press in and encroach on this beautiful place. Yet, as he plaintively leaned against his pitch fork watching the smoldering flames like a mesmerizing campfire, he spoke with a sense of hope and ambition. I admired him. He faced an impossible mission, yet he wasn’t discouraged or defeated. He wasn’t going to give up. He was determined to do what he could to impact his little part of the world.

I think of the times when I’ve faced what seemed like an impossibility in my own life and have been tempted to give up. Sometimes, without invitation, the outside world invades mine and I feel overwhelmed to do anything about it. There have been seasons when I’ve let things get too far out of control to the point of choking out all that’s good. And at other times when I’m faced with the needs and injustice in the world, I feel too insignificant to make an impact. This man’s determination reminded me that no matter how overwhelming a circumstance may seem, there’s always hope. I suppose I’ll never get rid of all the injustice in the world, but that won’t stop me from trying. I may not be able to change the whole world, but I can change the small part I call home. And maybe, just maybe … someone may stroll along someday and see me fanning the flames, only to realize they can change theirs too.

Improve Your Soil by Raking Less

by Terry Ettinger

1024px-Listí_na_hrázi_rybníkaIf you dread the annual fall leaf-raking marathon, I have good news for you: Raking and collecting leaves every autumn is a tradition without scientific basis. Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials. Based upon research at several universities, the organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality. At Michigan State, researchers set a rotary mower to cut at a height of 3 inches and then mowed an 18-inch-deep layer of leaves into test plots. That’s the equivalent of 450 pounds of leaves per 1,000 square feet. The tests resulted in improved soil and healthy lawns with few remnant leaves visible the following spring.

You can achieve similar results if you set your mower to cut at the same height as in the Michigan State study, and mow at least once a week during peak leaf fall when your lawn reaches a height of 4 inches. Leaves shred most efficiently when slightly damp, so mow after a light dew. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will never rake another leaf and improve the quality of your soil. Build planting beds with leaves. Under trees or in other shady spots where a lawn won’t grow, you can create planting beds from fallen leaves as a source of soil-building organic matter. Shredded leaves applied as mulch protect tree roots from heat and cold and retain soil moisture during dry spells. Some gardeners believe that excess leaves can harbor insects or disease, but I have experienced no such problems in my garden.

autumn-494390_960_720After we bought our property, I created planting beds where the leaves would naturally collect on our densely shaded and sparse front lawn. It’s been 15 years since I’ve raked a single leaf dropped by these trees. Instead, the leaves settle among the hellebores, epimediums, Japanese forest grass, hostas, and spring-flowering bulbs, where they decompose over time, just like on the forest floor. Easy, ecological, and fiscally responsible To treat leaves as trash is both environmentally foolish and financially ruinous. Currently, many municipalities encourage residents to rake leaves to the curb for collection, but before they are collected, heavy rains often wash the leaves into catch basins. There, they decompose and release phosphorus and nitrogen into streams and rivers that flow through the community. These excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms during the summer, which result in lower oxygen levels, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic species to survive.

Rake your leaves into the empty beds, and shred them with a lawn mower. Sprinkle the leaves with a 1- pound coffee can’s worth of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden. Turn the leaves, and water thoroughly to disperse the fertilizer, which speeds decay. Turn the leaves again in spring, and plant right through the remaining clumps, which will provide nutrients as they decompose.

Municipalities, both large and small, spend thousands, even millions, of dollars each year to collect, transport, and process autumn leaves, tying up resources that could be used elsewhere in our communities. If we all keep our leaves on our properties, we will improve our gardens, save money, and enhance the environment we all share. Your own source of free fertilizer A little effort can supply an organic source of nutrients for your plants. Here are two ways to use your leaves:

  1. Pile composting for mixed borders
  • Rake the leaves into loose piles or in wire bins about 4 feet square within your borders.
  • Mix in a few shovelfuls of soil, and add 20 to 30 gallons of water to aid decomposition.
  • Pull the piles or bins apart in the spring, and spread the decayed leaves throughout the border
  • Cover the decayed leaves with a 1-inch-deep layer of fresh mulch.

2. Sheet composting for annual beds

  • Rake your leaves into the empty beds, and shred them with a lawn mower.
  • Sprinkle the leaves with a 1-pound coffee can’s worth of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden.
  • Turn the leaves, and water thoroughly to disperse the fertilizer, which speeds decay.
  • Turn the leaves again in spring, and plant right through the remaining clumps, which will provide nutrients as they decompose.