Thoroughly clean up perennial beds, bedding plants, and vegetable gardens as cold weather progresses. Many diseases and insects spend the winter on plant debris waiting for the first warm days of spring to attack tender new growth. Compost debris by shredding it with a lawn mower or chipper. After you accumulate a cubic yard of debris, compost it by adding a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer or grass clippings to activate decay organisms. Monitor the temperature of your compost pile with a thermometer and turn the pile weekly to fluff up the ingredients. The temperature should reach 140° F, warm enough to kill weed seeds, insect eggs, and disease spores that might be in the pile.
Don’t be alarmed if plants you recently brought indoors turn pale green or drop some of their leaves. They are adjusting to the dimmer light and lower humidity found indoors. Water plants less frequently and withhold fertilizer to help them adjust.
Water recently planted trees, shrubs, and spring flowering bulbs thoroughly before winter arrives. Inadequate soil moisture greatly diminishes cold hardiness. Dig a small hole with a shovel or bulb planter to make sure that the soil is moist to a depth of at least one foot.
Don’t wait until ice and snow are forecast to protect evergreen shrubs. Wrap shrubs like boxwood, arborvitae, and columnar junipers with twine to prevent the weight of ice or snow from spreading the branches apart or breaking them. Tie the twine securely near the bottom of the trunk and wrap it upward in a spiral. Begin to wrap it downward when you reach the top of the shrub and continue until you reach the point where you started. Tie the twine securely to the trunk.
Fall is the best time to apply lime to lawns and vegetable gardens to correct low pH. Contact your local extension service to get your soil tested and apply the amount of lime recommended by the test results. Use finely pulverized lime and apply it evenly. Freezing and thawing during the winter will help to incorporate the lime into the top layer of soil.
Ticks are prevalent even in cool weather. It is important to protect yourself and your pets from ticks since they carry several diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Be especially careful if you live in an area where the deer population is high. Pull your sock up over your pant legs when walking in the woods or in meadows. Check yourself and your pets daily for ticks and promptly remove any that you find with a steady pulling motion. Treat the wound left by the tick with an antiseptic. Insecticides applied to your yard are not very effective for controlling ticks since they move as freely as their hosts–birds, meadow mice, deer, and other animals.
Resist the temptation to till vegetable gardens in the fall. Frequent rototilling breaks down the soil’s structure and makes it more vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Plant a cover crop like winter rye, crimson clover, or hairy vetch to bind and protect the soil over the winter. Lime, manure, or compost can be applied to the soil surface and may be incorporated along with the cover crop when spring arrives.
Red and black box elder bugs may congregate on the south side of your home this time of year. They are a temporary nuisance. If you cannot tolerate them for the few weeks that they are present, use a shop vac to dispose of them instead of a pesticide.