Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

Here in Zone 5a, the beauty of Fall is waning.

pathway to winter

Time for reality, and tending to winterizing before it gets too cold out there.  November is the perfect time for putting the garden to bed.

  • Divide and cut back perennials.

Tall grasses should be tied with twine or tape, then whacked close to ground level with hedge trimmers.  You can then divide the roots if necessary.

Daylilies, like the tall grasses, should be cut back if they aren’t already.  About once every three years or so, the roots can be divided with pitchforks, as demonstrated in this clip.

  • Gather seeds from the beautiful annuals you had in the garden this year.  Shake dried seed pods directly into small plastic bags, making sure to slip in a small piece of paper that identifies the seed before sealing.  Here’s a seed catalog project I’ve finally been able to achieve!
  • Once the frost has hit them, dig out annuals and throw them on the compost pile.
  • Fall is the perfect time to plant new trees or shrubs.  The roots will need plenty of water and will establish themselves before the ground has a chance to freeze.
  • Amend your soil.  Here in the Western Pennsylvania region, clay soil is pretty much the norm.  Amending the garden beds by adding compost annually really helps the plants and trees that are planted in this soil perform and breathe!
  • Empty hoses and shut off water from inside the house.  Bring those clay crocks and other breakables inside, they may will break 😦
  • Take a look at your bird feeder location.  Make sure it’s high enough to discourage ground invaders, in a nice sunny spot so birds will enjoy the location.  And make sure it’s not in the range of any domesticated animal run.  Sound like experience talking here?
  • Place a stick in the bird bath, so that when the water freezes, you will be able to remove the ice and refill with fresh water.
  • Protect cold-sensitive plants.  This could mean mulching with leaves or constructing burlap enclosures and filling with leaves.  Anything to keep the plants protected, but not too warm as to encourage growth.

With minimal pain, you will have a head start on the Spring chores once Mr. Winter goes back into hibernation.

Not to rush life along, but I’m soo looking forward to Spring!

That IS a weed, right?

I have mentioned before that there are some plants that we call weeds that are truly beautiful, and I’m not so sure we should consider them weeds at all.  One of my favorite plants in the yard, my Spiderwort,spiderwort thrives from mid Spring till mid Summer.  It’s very disappointing when it’s time to cut it back, because I know that Summer is coming to an end.  The nice thing about the Spiderwort is that the foliage comes back and it looks like a nice grass.

There is a weed that grows out of this grass each year, but I have always questioned its status as a weed.  The leaves have thorns that grow out of them, which I find very odd, and the flowers are very delicate and white with a bright yellow center.  It’s a weed, but it’s one that I really like.

This year, I decided to identify this weed.  The best way I know of identifying a flower is to Google the description.  So I Googled “white star shaped flower” images, and searched the pictures that appeared.  Easy as that, I discovered Solanum, or Horsenettle – it’s really not a weed at all!

Horse Nettle (solanum)

A post shared by Elizabeth (@gardengirl204) on

This specimen is one of those “extras” that came with one of the flowers that Alice gave me, more than likely that Spiderwort.

Can you name that plant?

Many of the plants in my yard are compliments of a gardening friend who used to live across the street.  I was so fortunate  to live across from her yard, it was always gorgeous.  And when she thinned her flower beds, which she did regularly, she would bring over the toss offs for me to plant.  At least once a week, I would come home to a surprise bucket of plants.  Alice was very good at teaching me the names of many plants and I thank her for much of my knowledge of plants.

Angel Wing Begonia
Angel Wing Begonia

This specimen came from Alice, but it was a surprise that must have been included with some other plant.  It appeared a few summers ago, and I have been searching online for it.  I finally found it tonight by googling images of “pink droopy flower”.  It’s called an Angel Wing Begonia.

There should be an app that helps identify plants.  I’ve seen a few after a quick search on my iPhone – Leafsnap, Google Goggles, NatureGate.  None of these apps has good reviews.  I’d love an app that I can input a picture and it identifies the plant.  Even one that you can input characteristics of a plant and it narrows your search would be helpful.

Do you know a good iPhone app for identifying plants?

What we have heeah – is failure to communicate

Lost in thought on my way to town this morning.  Most mornings, I get in the car, say my morning prayers, and flip on the radio to quiet the drone that are my racing thoughts.  Some mornings I don’t flip on the radio and actually listen to the thoughts.  I keep a notebook in the car for these mornings, because the thoughts are really worth noting and I’ll forget them all by the time I enter the parking garage.

Notes from this morning included “wisteria”, “trumpet vine”, “english ivy”, “evening primrose”.

One evening last week, I coerced my daughter to join me at the middle school for the annual Greenfest.  One of the new events at Greenfest was a perennial exchange.  I was so excited – I went straight home from work, dug up two of my favorite perennial specimens, and lugged them off to the Greenfest.  B does not share my enthusiasm for gardening, which really saddens my heart.  But she was equally excited about the food displays. :/

At the perennial table, I traded my stemless evening primrose (oenothera triloba) for a fern.  This is one flower I can hardly wait for each summer, as the kids love watching the buds bloom each evening.  Just at dusk, they race outside, trying to guess how many flowers will bloom tonight.  And if they are lucky, they get there just in time for the show.  You can actually watch them open!

stemless evening primrose

And I donated my Love-in-a-Mist (nigela damascena), which is actually an annual, but it self-sows, so I made it work.

Love-in-a-Mist

They will probably not like it after a couple of years when they can’t figure out how in the world it shows up everywhere – even in the cracks of the walkway!  But it’s such a pretty blue flower, I forgive it for its aggressive nature and pull the ones that just don’t belong.

Back to my list – my list of aggressive plants that I have tried despite the voice of experience.  When I first bought my wisteria and shared the news with Alice (my favorite gardening friend), her reaction was “oh my”.  What?  Well, just make sure it has some good support.  It can bring down a small house.  Of course, I’m training it up the stairs of my deck, along the rail.  Hopefully, the rails are strong enough to hold it.

I’ve also been told of how difficult it is to grow wisteria in my part of the world.  Maybe that’s another reason for Alice’s concern.  I know I came close to enjoying the plant in bloom this year, but the weather just did not cooperate.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) – the first time I saw it was at the beach house in North Carolina.

trumpet creeper

The flowers were gorgeous, orange and long.  The seed pods are enormous, and should probably have told me something about the plant.  I have tried 3 times (unsuccessfully) to start these vines on my fence, but the ground must be too moist.  I have since read horror stories of having to bring in a backhoe to dig out the roots of this extremely invasive plant.  (I did check on it yesterday, and it does appear that the vine may have taken root, finally.  Now the question that remains to be answered – did I make a mistake here?)

I’ve told my English Ivy story, and Alice actually warned me about that one too.

She gave me my first sample of evening primrose (not the stemless variety) and told me I’d have to keep it at bay, as it could take over the entire garden.  She was right on all counts.

I really have to applaud the new principal at our middle school.  He is really encouraging the students to be good stewards to the environment.  He spearheaded this Greenfest a few years ago, and the program continues to grow each year.  He brings in local nurseries, a bee keeper, an etymologist, a Penn State Master Gardener, and has demonstrations that each class puts together – similar to a science fair.

The perennials that were donated will be planted in the courtyard (which for 25 years has had nothing but grass growing in it).