Getting ready for winter? Cut back the stems of dahlias before digging up the tubers for winter storage indoors.

Gardener’s Checklist: Week of October 15, 2020

What? Ron is already in the garden preparing for next spring in the Berkshires? Maybe you should, too. Here’s how.

* Make a sketch of the past season’s vegetable garden. It doesn’t have to be a Rembrandt, just a rough sketch indicating where each crop was planted. Use this sketch next spring to plan rotation of crops within the garden. Crop rotation is an important step in reducing pest and disease problems. I’ll bet Rembrandt didn’t know that or he would have sketched more gardens.

* Dig trenches in gardens to bury leaves and garden debris if you do not have or want a compost pile. The leaves and debris will decay and contribute organic matter to the soil.

* Place a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around but not against the stems of trees and shrubs planted this fall. Soils are still relatively warm and the mulch will insulate the soil and keeps it warm for a while longer, allowing additional time for growth and establishment of plant roots. On the other hand, delay placing mulches around established roses and perennials until the ground begins to freeze. The purpose of mulch for these plants is not to keep the soil warm but to keep it frozen.

Apply a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around, but not against, the stems of trees and shrubs planted this fall.

* As long as the grass continues to grow, do the mow. No, that’s not the latest dance trend. Grass is still growing albeit at a slower pace. So, don’t retire the lawn mower just yet.

* Continue planting spring flowering bulbs right up to the time that the ground begins to freeze. Not surprisingly, the bulbs will do much better in the ground even when planted late than they will in a paper bag in the garage or garden shed.

* Dig up and store the tubers of dahlias and cannas. The tubers of these summer bloomers are not winter hardy. Also dig up the corms of gladioli and allow them to dry before cutting off the leafy shoots. Place tubers and corms in a box or bag filled with sawdust, sand, or peat moss. Store them at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F.

Spring flowering bulbs may be planted up to the time that ground begins to freeze.

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Want to get warm season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and squash, off to an earlier start than usual next spring? Though I am not going to predict what next spring will be like, I plan to take some steps that may help these crops do better at the end of the winter.

One of those steps is to create raised beds this fall. My technique for making a raised bed is to mound up soil and then level it, leaving a two- to four-foot wide bed. Stakes and string are used to mark the dimensions of the bed. More ambitious gardeners can build permanent beds with boards of decay resistant wood, but I prefer my cheaper method.

The advantage of raised beds is that soil drains quickly and warms faster than the surrounding soil in spring. Another advantage is that I don’t have to walk on the prepared soil, thus avoiding compaction of the soil. Since the beds are at most four feet wide, I can reach in from the sides, to plant, weed, and harvest. Pretty cool……I mean warm!