Tag Archive | Winter

Watch out for Frost

Sad to say, but summer is over and it’s time to start thinking about extending your harvest by watching those overnight temperatures. Do you know when to expect those cold temperatures or do you wait to hear it from your friendly TV weatherman? Knowing an approximation of your growing season helps when you plant in the spring and when you’re trying to get the very last of your harvest in the fall.

Take a look at the Frost Chart for the United States as provided by The Farmer’s Almanac:


Note: it’s alphabetic by state, not by city.

Another useful article comes from Botanical Interests as it provides information on which plants need more TLC when the frost moves in, and which ones are a bit more hardy for the later hard frosts.


You’ll only be able to extend the season for a short amount of time before Mother Nature decides that it’s time for our gardens to rest, but getting just one more tomato or another handful of peas is worth the time and effort!

Lucy’s Corner (volume 2)

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka

In June 2016, we posted a blog from our veggie expert Lucy Valitchka with helpful tips for growing a successful garden. The tips were arranged by month and covered the summer period of June into early August. Now, we’re pleased to be able to present a fall edition to help you put your garden to bed.

darzoves-67558444Autumn in the garden has its own special needs and is as important a time as the busy springtime. For those who planted their garden later, like this writer, there will still be vegetables or fruits to harvest. Here are some guidelines that might be helpful to all. These ideas came from experience, garden columns, Wisconsin Garden Journal Calendar and other sources.


  • If not done already, be sure to remove any flowers from melons, squash, pumpkins as they will not reach maturity before frost.
  • Remove flowers from tomatoes after September 1st.
  • Week 4 of September pinch out the growing points at the top of Brussels sprouts stems so bottom sprouts will reach maturity.
  • When onion tops fall over and brown, they are ready to harvest. Dig them and let dry in the sun for a day. Then store on newspaper for a couple weeks in a dry place. After that, remove dried tops and store in mesh bags in a cool, dark, dry place. I hang our onion bags on hooks in our fruit cellar.
  • Herbs should be ready to harvest. I spray the herbs with water to remove any dust, then let dry on layers of newspaper on our basement table. I put a marker by each pile of herbs, so I know the variety. When herbs are completely dry I remove stems and place herbs in small labeled jars.
  • Gather any vegetables or fruits early or late in the day, provided plants aren’t wet.
  • Refrigerate or process as soon as possible. Quality of vegetable or fruits is highest at picking time.
  • Harvest pears when still light green. Separate fruit from branch with slight twisting motion.


  • Gather squash, pumpkins and gourds when ripe and before damaged by frost. Leave a 2-inch stem on vegetable for better storage.
  • Harvest late vegetables or fruits. This is a time for apple harvest for us and cider processing at a mill near Elkhart Lake.
  • Rake up apple leaves and fallen fruit to control disease and insect problems next year.
  • Remove all weeds from garden before they go to seed.
  • Grapes should be ready for jelly or maybe a delicious grape pie!
  • Late tomatoes make great salsa.
  • Frosts can come at the end of September or early October. Watch the weather and be sure to harvest all tender crops like beans, tomatoes, peppers etc. before you lose them to frost.
  • Crops such as kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts will actually taste better because of a light frost.
  • Plant garlic in rich, well-drained soil 5 inches apart and 1 to 2 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 4 to 6 inches of straw mulch.
  • Remove all used plants from garden.
  • Compost plants free of disease potential. Do not compost vine crops and old raspberry canes. That would allow disease and insect pest “carryover” next spring.
  • Burn or dispose of diseased plants.
  • Cut asparagus plants to ground after hard frost and dispose of plants.
  • Sanitize tomato cages. I spray them with hose and then Clorox Clean-Up.
  • We gather fall leaves on lawn with a mulcher mower and deposit on our garden after all plants are out of the garden. Then the leaves are plowed under in the fall to help improve the soil texture. Some people prefer the no till method so mulched leaves could just be left on top of the soil to decompose during the winter.
  • If you have raised beds, apply above techniques accordingly


  • Mulch asparagus bed with chopped leaves or straw to protect crowns from frost.
  • Mulch parsnips with a foot of straw or marsh hay for winter protection. Mark rows with stakes.
  • Make sure tools are cleaned and oiled for winter storage.
  • Protect the trunks of young fruit trees against animal damage with wire or plastic rodent guards.
  • Plastic guards may also protect young plants from sun scald.
  • Sit back and take a well deserved rest from garden chores!


“If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of next year’s beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener’s calendar. This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect. People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth.”

—Vita Sackville-West

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are too often tossed unceremoniously onto the curb right after the holidays. But there’s no reason holiday evergreens can’t be allowed to serve long after the merry-making is over.

For a splash of instant green, cut the branches of pine, fir, spruce, or other needled evergreens and add them to barren window boxes or containers.

You can also use branches to protect dormant plants. A think cover of evergreen limbs helps keep the surface layer of soil moist, and also helps to stabilize soil temperature, reducing the rapid cycles of frost and thaw that can heave perennials and shrubs from the ground and rip their roots.

Christmas greenery also can be used as tracery on trellises and arbors. Held in place with plastic ties or string, cut boughs give plants like climbing roses, and vines like grapes or clematis, a good-looking shield from drying winter winds and sun.

In addition, leftover evergreens are useful for augmenting the natural foliage around a bird feeder or bath. Wild birds like protection and aren’t choosy whether their evergreen screen is living or dead.

There is an art to denuding a Christmas tree, though, and pruning shears or loppers are a must. Heavy gloves make it easier to handle the rough bark and the needles. If you must cut up the tree inside, cover the floor with a plastic sheet to prevent a mess of needles and sap.

Remove the evergreen boughs from gardens and planters when the tips of early spring bloomers, like crocus or snowdrops, have pushed about an inch out of the ground. Where no bulbs are planted, leave the branches until mid-April or whenever spring seems securely in place.

Salt Alternatives


Winter salt damage to lawn

When winter comes, it’s important to keep walkways safe, but the chemical compounds sold for de-icing all contain some form of salt, which you don’t want leaching into your soil. Although calcium nitrate or high-nitrogen fertilizer is often recommended as a more benign alternative, an overdose of nitrates isn’t really any better than a buildup of salt itself. In either case, soil organisms are damaged, plant roots can be burned, and leached-out excess winds up in the groundwater.

So what do you do? Start with prevention. There will be very little ice to worry about if you are careful to keep the walkway well shoveled in the first place. Remove snow right down to the path surface as soon as it falls (walking on snow compacts it and makes it stick). Pile the snow on the downhill side, so it doesn’t flow over the walkway when it melts.

Next, cover any ice you do get with something that will provide traction. Clay cat litter and coarse sand both work well and won’t be much of an indoor problem if you keep a mat or bootbrush by your door.

Alternatively, you can add traction to the walkway by covering it with temporary “paving” that has a nonslip surface. There are specially designed flexible metal grids sold for this purpose at hardware stores and through specialty catalogs. Or you can use panels of asphalt roofing shingles. They cost less and work just as well, although they are less than lovely (sprinkle sand under the shingles so they don’t slip around).

Overwintering Geraniums

8387268_origSometimes you have a perfect summer with conditions that have contributed to the most beautiful container of geraniums you’ve ever had. What to do in the fall — let them die off and try again next year, or attempt to keep them over the winter? If you’re tempted to keep them, you have some options.

The perfect solution would be a cool, damp basement (can you say cellar?), where you could just hang them upside down. Shake the excess dirt from the roots, but leave all that clings. Loosely tie a string around the neck area, where the stem meets he roots, and use this to hang them from a rafter or beam. They should get good air circulation; be sure they don’t touch each other or anything else.

A dry basement — as long as it is cool (35º to 45ºF) — is a distant second choice. In that case, you will need to pot them up and they will need a place that’s light. They should be watered thoroughly about once a month, but let them go dry in between — they’re hardly growing.

No matter which way you store them, remove buds and flowers, where the disease botrytis hides, and any leaves that turn yellow. Cut the plants back to 6 inches after planting them outside next year.

Even thought your geraniums appear healthy, they could have picked up at least one of the many diseases that affect geraniums during the summer. When they are ready to go back outside, the geraniums will be stressed from their winter treatment, but any disease organisms will be just fine so the plants may not be as healthy as you expect. Keep a little extra in the gardening budget for replacements.

Forcing Hyacinths

HyacinthL1Now is the time to get your hyacinth bulbs ready if you want them blooming and beautiful for spring. They need a cool period of at least 14 weeks to form roots and prepare for blooming, so pot them up (or put them on forcing jars) and keep them in cold darkness (35º to 45ºF) until the rest period is up. If you have no other place that provides these conditions, you can use the refrigerator; simply store the bulbs in a paper bag away from the crispers. The ethylene gas that some fruits emit inhibits bulb development. Keep them in this retreat for about ten weeks, and be sure to mark your calendar so you’ll remember to remove them.

At the end of the cold period, pot the bulbs using a good potting mixture that has not been pre-enriched with fertilizer. Pots should be clean and have adequate drainage. One bulb is sufficient for a 4” (10cm) pot and three bulbs are needed for a 6” (15cm) pot. If you’re using a larger container, plant the bulbs as closely as possible together. When planting it is advisable to use gloves, since the bulbs contain organic compounds that can cause a skin rash. Move the potted bulbs to a cool, shaded part of the room for a week or two. As the flower buds begin to emerge, gradually expose the plants to ever brighter light. A bit of direct sun is useful, but fortunately it is not imperative.

forcing-hyacinths-indoorsOnce your hyacinths are growing indoors, they will flower in two to three weeks. If desired you can also lift the bulbs out of their potting material, wash off any dirt around the roots (just hold the end of the bulb under running water) and place carefully into a decorative glass container with some stones or hydro beads and a little water. Prolong the blooms by avoiding direct sunlight, but ensure that the plants get strong, indirect light. When the spring comes, plant them in the garden. Hyacinths can last for a number of years in garden condition.

Posted by Vicki

Expert’s Tip: Tree Pruning

Kimberly Miller, Winnebago Co. UW-Extension Horticulture Educator

As we move into November, we are definitely feeling the change of the seasons. To some this may seem like the end of the gardening season. However, this is the perfect time to start examining your trees to determine what pruning needs, if any, they need. Trees in the urban landscape endure stresses not found in forest conditions and often pruning is needed to remove dead branches, improve structure, enhance vigor, or maintain safety.

The best time to prune trees is during the late dormant season. Pruning at this time of year allows you to see the overall branch structure, it minimizes the risk of pest problems associated with wound entry, and it allows trees to take advantage of the full growing season to begin closing and compartmentalizing the wounds. It is especially critical to prune oak trees at this of year time (November to March) to limit the spread of oak wilt.

Trees should be pruned throughout their entire life. However, if young trees are “trained” or pruned to promote good structure they will remain in the landscape for more years than trees that were not. These trees also have a lower potential for structural failure at maturity and require less maintenance later on.

Before making any pruning cuts it is important to understand the biology of a tree and how it will respond in order to optimize the health and structure of your tree. Trees DO NOT HEAL, therefore each cut has the potential to change the growth of the tree and an improper cut can cause damage that remains for the life of the tree. No branch should be removed without a reason. Therefore, laying out your plan of action is important.

Tips for pruning your trees:

  • Have objectives! This will dictate the type of pruning techniques to use. e.g. Crown thinning, raising, reduction, cleaning, restoration, etc.
  • Each cut should be made carefully, at the correct location, leaving a smooth surface with no jagged edges or torn bark. Use the 3-point cut for larger limbs. By doing this, it will help the tree to optimize its “compartmentalization” process by which it limits the spread of disease through the wound site.
  • Never remove more than 25% of the live branches of the tree.
  • Wound dressing is not needed on pruning cuts, unless the prevention of certain diseases is needed (e.g. as oak wilt). If needed apply only a light coating of a non-phytotoxic material.
  • Do not top your trees.
  • Use the right tools for the job. Well-maintained and sharp tools will improve their performance.
  • Do not prune near electrical and utility lines. Contact the utility company or hire a professional.
  • Leave the pruning of large trees to the professionals (anything you cannot reach from the ground). For a list of certified arborists in your area go to http://www.treesaregood.com/findanarborist/arboristsearch.aspx

For more in-depth information on pruning techniques go to http://www.treesaregood.org/treeowner/pruningyourtrees.aspx

Posted by Vicki