DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Fall Chores

Labor Day has come and gone.

Already, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a very cold and very snowy winter — not the much milder El Niño scenario many weather predictors are indicating.

In any case, gardeners will have to prepare for winter and readiness means cleanup.

We can start with the vegetable garden. Green beans, peas, sweet corn, melons and squash are done for the season. While a little frost improves the squash and pumpkin flavor, it isn’t necessary.

Leave cabbage, kale, beets, rutabagas and turnips until late September or early October. Most other vegetable crops, with the exception of parsnips, can be cleaned out by mid-October. Parsnips will overwinter just fine and can be enjoyed in early spring the following year.

Many of our houseplants are tropical in origin. So even a little frost can kill poinsettias and Christmas cacti. Geraniums will overwinter if potted or stored in the basement.

Before bringing houseplants indoors, you may have to cut them back if necessary. Also, check for insects and disease.

If possible, bring plants into a cool porch or garage first and then into the house. That way they will avoid drastic temperature shock.

As the weather grows colder, it’s time to pick apples, potatoes and whatever tomatoes remain. If possible, till your garden before winter sets in. The frost will break up the clay balls we have in our gardens. Also, work in well-rotted manure and compost.

Tender bulbs, corms and tubers can be enjoyed right up until a frost. When a frost blackens the tops, it will be time to dig them up carefully and retrieve any offshoots. Cure them for a two- to three-week period by drying them outside or in the garage before putting them into a cool basement. Dahlias, cannas, calla lily and glads are in in this category.

Begonias are handled another way. Don’t cut off foliage but rather let it dry  enough so it will become brittle and break off.

The bulbs will overwinter well in a dark, cool place in the 45- to 50-degree range. You can pack them in peat moss, vermiculite or similar material. Dust with a fungicide and insecticide to curb problems next spring.

Remove dead foliage from peonies or it will harbor disease. Leave mum and asparagus foliage because it will catch winter snow and protect the plants. Keep rotted apples picked up so they won’t harbor disease. Finally, keep lawns mowed and raked and water trees and floral plantings.

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