Oh September, such a bittersweet month — the rains arrive bringing a chill to the air and termination dust to the peaks. Cottonwood leaves turn golden and garden nasturtiums, with their colorful, edible blooms, explode in one last burst of color. It’s a trifle hard to think about digging up the garden, to tuck it in for winter. But, for many reasons it’s absolutely necessary. Darren Snyder, with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, offered up a few quick tips on how to turn down your yard and garden in preparation for next year’s growing season.
• Add to the compost pile: “Fall is a time to plant your garlic bulbs for the next year,” he said. “It’s a time to get rid of old plant material, to add it to your compost bid.”
Avoid composting diseased plants or potato clippings, he said, as they will infect the soil and render it unusable. If you don’t have a compost pile, fall is a great time to start one. Select an open site with good drainage. Use finely divided material and turn the pile periodically to maintain aerobic conditions. Composting can recycle plant debris. Selected household scraps such as raw vegetables and egg shells provide nutrients when added to the soil and can help maintain the physical structure of garden soil.
• Mulch: It’s a time, he said, to mulch around plantings — a good choice is seaweed — which provides huge amounts of naturally-occurring micronutrients that will wash off with fall rains and percolate into the surrounding soil. You can also choose to cover the seaweed with plastic, if you like, for an added layer of insulation. Snyder said, in general, flora and fauna love the stuff, so go hog wild, if you want. A layer of seaweed also provides protection against the nasty freeze-thaw cycle that happens (nearly) all winter long in our temperate rainforest.
• Protect: Southeast winters can be hard. Places like Douglas often experience strong winds that bend young trees and areas like the valley, that experience colder temperatures, can get large dumps of heavy snow. Protect shrubbery and trees by putting up temporary wind breaks, shelters or fences. Sheltering is an effective way to reduce the drying and damaging effects of winter winds on woody perennials. Fences may also be useful in preventing damage to plants by animals, winter traffic and other harmful activities.
• Store: Put away and clean terra-cotta and clay pots. Empty buckets, watering cans and rain barrels and detach that hose and store it for the winter. Taking time to complete this clean-up reduces freezing damage, prevents the accumulation of debris and allows for any needed repairs or refurbishing.
• Give the garden some love: Heavy rains, like the kind that hits Southeast this time of year, can compact soils. Loosen up some of those areas by gently turning the soil. Prune perennials to remove dead, damaged or diseased portions. Plant bulbs. Complete garden expansion or creation plans and make sure to mark existing and/or new perennials as a reminder of what will emerge next spring.
Of course, there’s plenty more that could be done to an outdoor space in preparation for winter. The UAF Cooperative Extension service offers a publication called “An Alaska Gardener’s Fall Checklist.” Many of the above recommendations are listed here, but for more click on this story at juneauempire.com for a link to the PDF.
• Nominate a favorite perennial, fly fishing fly, trail or gardening tip by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The most interesting and unique recommendations will be featured in an upcoming edition of Outdoor Notebook.