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Still Not Too Cold for Cole Crops

A green head of lettuce grows in a raised garden bed
Lettuces and other cole crops can last well into late fall with season extenders like mulch or straw to keep them warm on nights with frost. (Photo: Peggy Singlemann)

The fall colors this year have been glorious, creating a perfect segue into the colder weather! The cooler soil temperatures set the stage for planting spring-blooming bulbs such as snowdrops, wind anemones, crocus, tulips, daffodils, and Grape Hyacinths.

This is also the perfect time to plant garlic. By waiting until mid-November, the newly planted cloves will send down roots, then come spring the shoots will grow. If planted too early, the shoots will emerge shortly thereafter and the cloves will not properly develop. I mulch my garlic with straw, cut up leaves, or partially decomposed compost.

Continue mulching the vegetable garden beyond the garlic bed to protect the soil from winter wind erosion while adding nutrients and improving soil structure. Cover crops such as winter rye or winter wheat, crimson clover, or hairy vetch are easy to grow over the winter and perfect to till into the soil profile as a green manure in the spring.

The soil in the perennial border will benefit from protective mulches of chopped up leaves or partially decomposed compost atop their soil, too. Resist the urge to cut back the border by cutting and removing only plants infested with insects or suffering from disease. The remainder will provide cover for beneficial insects and birds against the winter weather.

Other plants that benefit from tucking a protective layer of organic matter around their crowns are Rosemary and Gardenias. Strawberries also thrive with a layer of straw tucked in and around the crowns of the plants to protect them from the cold weather.

Root crops will survive in the ground into the early winter months with a layer of mulch on top. Straw is perfect for this application. Still, dig potatoes now and dry them before storing for future use. To extend the storage time of potatoes, do not wash them; wait to wash the tubers before cooking them. Tender summer-blooming bulbs and tubers such as Dahlias should be dug now and dried before storing in vermiculite for the winter as well.

Bring the garden indoors by transplanting chives, parsley, sage, and thyme into pots. Place the containers in a sunny window and enjoy clipping and using the herbs throughout the winter. Direct sow dill and cilantro seeds in a pot to enjoy growing them indoors as well. The growth will be slower due to the shorter day length. Fertilize at half strength at the interval on the product’s label.

In the orchard, coat the trunks with white paint or wrap them with tree wrap to protect the thin-barked fruit trees from cracking during freezing and thawing temperature cycles. Resist pruning the fruit trees until the late winter. The pruning of any woody plant should be kept at a minimum during the coldest winter months since plants cannot seal wounds while in dormancy. Speaking of woody plants, at Maymont we continue to plant trees and shrubs until late December, resuming in February.

Finally, I cannot stress enough how important it is to take care of your tools and equipment. First, drain and put away all garden hoses to reduce the UV rays from breaking them down. Clean and wipe down all hand tools with oil before storing them as well. The protective layer of oil will prevent the tools from rusting.

Finally, it is important to tend to your power equipment. There are two schools of thought regarding the best method to prepare the equipment for storage. One thought is to run the power equipment dry to prevent the gasoline from gumming up the carburetor as it breaks down during the winter, then syphon remaining gasoline from the tank to use in your car (if it is not mixed with oil). The other option is to fill the gas tank and add a gasoline stabilizing product per the label, run the equipment to thoroughly distribute the stabilized gas through the engine, and top off the gas tank to eliminate air space within to reduce condensation which could rust out the tank.

Many think the harvest is over, but with cole crops still producing and root crops in the ground, the garden continues to provide (with a helping hand from season extenders like mulch)!

Happy Gardening!
Peggy, Director of Park Operations and Horticulture at  Maymont