Getting gardens ready for winter


By Bob Beyfuss
For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Bob Beyfuss.Most of our region finally had a hard freeze recently, putting an end to a gardening season that lasted much longer than “normal.”

October 2021 was one of the wettest, as well as one of the warmest on record. As annoying as the rainy weather has been all summer long, it has been beneficial for our forests.

Prolonged droughts, such as we have experienced in the past few decades, contribute to long-term declines in forest health that are hard to erase. Tree species such as Eastern hemlock, which have been devastated by the hemlock wooly adelgid, can tolerate much more insect pressure provided they have adequate moisture.

It is true that increased rain leads to increased fungal diseases, particularly leaf-spot diseases, but these diseases are far less serious to the long-term health of the tree than drought. If your landscape trees or shrubs suffered from leaf-spot diseases this past season, make sure you rake up and dispose of fallen leaves this fall, since these leaves will serve as sources of infection next spring.

In order for any disease to occur, three things must happen simultaneously. First, there must be the presence of the pathogen in sufficient amounts to cause infection. Most fungal infections are spread by spores that overwinter in the fallen leaves. This will be the case with the fallen leaves next spring serving as inoculum.

Next, environmental conditions, such as moisture and temperature, must be favorable for the spores to germinate.

Finally, the host tree or shrub must be at a susceptible stage. Most leaf infections occur before the leaf forms its protective, waxy cuticle, so by the time you see symptoms, it is too late to do anything.

I think we can count on the latter two conditions occurring, so the only thing you can affect is to remove the fallen leaves and reduce the level of infectious spores.

It is important to get rid of leaves in general that may be blanketing your lawn right now. It only takes about six weeks for lawn grasses to die if they are fully covered with leaves, as long as the grass is not fully dormant. They don’t suffocate so much as perish from lack of sunlight.

You can rake up the leaves and dispose of them for curbside pickup, but I see this as a waste of a valuable resource, putting the organic matter in a landfill that can be utilized elsewhere on your property. The best solution is to compost the leaves in a compost pile or bin, and then use the compost in your gardens next year.

Maple leaves, especially sugar maple leaves, compost quickly, but oak leaves often mat down and can ruin a compost pile if they are not either shredded or mixed with a coarser organic substance. Maple leaves by themselves make an excellent mulch for asparagus beds after the fern-like tops are removed. Wait until the asparagus fern turns yellow before cutting them down to ground level and then you can cover the bed with up to 6 inches or even more with maple leaves.

You can use maple leaves as mulch in perennial beds as well once the perennial plant tops have been cut back.

Simply mowing the leaves on your lawn where they fall will allow their nutrient value to feed the trees. Even if the grass does not need to be cut, shredding the leaves by mowing is perhaps the best way to not waste this source of nutrients aside from a compost pile.

Make sure you dig up your summer bulbs such as canna, tuberous begonia, gladiolas and dahlias before the ground freezes. Store the bulbs, tubers or corms in the basement in paper bags filled with dry peat moss for the winter.

It is not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs in a location that is clearly visible from your house windows. Only daffodils, alliums and crown imperial are pretty much immune to deer predation, whereas tulips are consumed like candy where deer are abundant.

Spray rhododendrons and other broad-leafed shrubs with an antidessicant right now to prevent winter burn. Make sure you coat the underside of the leaves with the spray since that is where the stomates are located. Be prepared to spray again in December on a warm day and perhaps once again in February.

Erect wooden cages to protect shrubs that deer eat or wrap the bushes with burlap. Don’t wrap them with plastic “burlap” since this material does not allow air exchange.

Deer populations are down significantly this fall, with the onset of EHD disease in the Hudson Valley. This viral disease has killed hundreds of deer this past summer and fall, much to the dismay of deer hunters. When the population of any wild animal exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, nature often steps in to remedy the issue.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at

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