Fall in the Garden

Tips and Tricks to Do Now for Successful Gardening Next Spring

You may be wondering what an article about gardening is doing in our November blog post. Prepping the remnants of a summer garden is just as important for garden success as watering, fertilizing and weeding during the peak growing months.

In addition, high-elevation gardening presents some unique challenges. We experience extremely high winds during the winter, have drastic changes in temperatures between the south and north facing slopes, and are home to hundreds of hungry elk, deer and raccoons looking for food from our gardens.

So what steps can you take to improve your chances of summer success during these cooler fall months?

Floyd Wright of the Estes Valley Community Garden has these suggestions:
-    Plant garlic. Although mid-September through October are the best times, there may still be a little time to get this hardy plant into the ground before the soil completely freezes. The bulbs send out roots in the fall and sprout with the earliest sprigs of green come spring. Garlic grows great here in Estes Park, but the hard-neck variety is hardier than the soft-neck types.
-    Plant bulbs. Lots of bulbs grow very well here, though their flowers are delicious to our four-footed friends. If you have a protected area, bulbs like daffodils, tulips, alliums, grape hyacinth, crocus, snow drops and early snow glories all grow well in Estes Park. Again, these need to be in the ground before it freezes.
-    Condition wildflower seeds. If you like to grow wildflowers from seed, many need to be cold-treated over the winter before they will germinate. Seal up seed packets in a glass jar with a lid in the refrigerator or freezer for the winter. Some seeds also like a moist, cool treatment in spring for best germination. Some great flower options include gaillardia, columbine, coneflower and penstemon.
-    Preserving tomatoes. If you are among the successful tomato growers here in Estes Park but have green tomatoes on hand, place them on a pan lined with newspaper on a dark closet floor. They will ripen over the next couple of months.
-    Saving strawberry plants. Strawberries like to be covered with straw over the winter to prevent them from drying out. You can then tack bird netting over the straw to keep it from blowing away over the winter. This technique works well for other vulnerable perennials as well.

There are many additional cleanup and maintenance tasks to perform in the garden before snow stays on the ground.
-    Create a compost pile out of the old grass clippings, dead plants, cuttings and fallen leaves. It will be a great source of mulch for your garden next summer. Place a plastic lining down on the ground before piling on the cuttings and clippings to prevent roots from growing in the ground. Or leave the plastic out and let the worms do their thing below the pile.  
-    Clean up the garden by removing dead and leftover plants, pull any remaining weeds, cut back perennials, clean up any fallen leaves, and lay down a fresh layer of natural mulch to keep the area neat and weed free during the winter.
-    Save the seeds from the plants in your garden you may want to use for the next growing season. Keep them dry, store in an air-tight container and stash into a cool, dark place.
-    Bring potted plants indoors. Flush the soil several times with water to prevent bringing in any unwanted hitchhikers, cover potting soil with a layer of fresh mulch to prevent fungus from growing on the soil, and spray the underside of leaves to remove lurking pests.
-    Clean up the tool shed. Before the snow gets too deep, open that toolshed door, clean up the floor and counters, and reorganize all of the supplies and tools you pulled out, rearranged and neglected during the busy gardening months.
-    Consider planting cold-hardy collards and kale as a way to keep gardening into winter and add color to your garden.
-    Start your spring seed research. This is a great time of year—when the wind is blowing and the snow is falling outside—to do some online searching indoors next to a warm fire for new varieties you want for next year’s garden. Remember to order early to avoid missing out on the popular plants that may sell out.

For more information about the Estes Valley Community Garden, visit www.evrpd.com.