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Plant, Plan, and Prep: Fall/Winter Inspiration for the Garden

Image by Anja Bauermann

By Dawn Oldfield, CCMGA Public Relations Chairperson

Summer 2023 was a scorcher, bringing record-setting heat and drought across Texas. I was out at first light, watering my tomato and pepper plants, patiently telling them that if they didn't perk up and appreciate the water I was sharing with them, I was going to pull them up. I did. My perennials pouted; the herbs were unhappy. I believe in conserving water, so I told them to tough it out. They tried.

As temperatures soared, I turned my mind to fall and winter gardening. It will cool off someday, right? Well… it could get a little too cool. According to the Farmers' Almanac, which has been predicting the weather for 200 years, Texas could have severe winter weather, with snow, ice and sleet storms in January and February 2024. Another 2021? Oh, boy…

While the Farmers' Almanac accuracy rate is estimated to be about 50%-80%, the best thing to do is prepare and plan for whatever weather Mother Nature throws our way. Shop now (before the holidays consume your time) for frost cloth to protect sensitive plants. Frost cloth traps radiant heat that comes from the warmth of the soil. Both light and water can get through. In a pinch, an old sheet will help. Never use plastic to cover plants. It will burn the vegetation.

While shopping for frost cloth (remember faucet covers to protect outdoor spigots), check out the selection of cool-season vegetables. October is still a great time to plant spinach, arugula, radishes, broccoli, cilantro, garlic, dill, and onions, to name a few veggies that do well this time of year. A low tunnel of frost cloth is usually enough protection to extend the harvest of cool-season vegetables by several more weeks.

Fall and winter is a great time to think about your garden. Make plans (take a critical look at your landscape- what should you do differently next year?), ready your tools (clean and sharpen), water wisely, and turn off your irrigation system, empty annual containers, clean them with a 10% beach solution and store them upside down, and ensure you're prepared for the sweet signs of spring. Collin County's nearly year-round growing season has plenty to keep a gardener busy. Even if the snow flies and temperatures dip to teeth-chattering levels, we can curl up with a cup of tea, browse gardening books and seed catalogs and dream of spring days to come.

The garden knows no season. Gardening is a monthly process. Even in the heart of winter, your garden is a busy place. Soil is still active, and plants continue to use its nutrients. Compost continues to decompose, and many plants can be planted and grown during winter. Early planting of perennials and transplanting established trees and shrubs encourage strong root growth and healthy plants. Plus, they'll benefit from the cooler temperatures and winter and spring rain.

Will your New Year's resolution include eating healthier? Build a raised bed for vegetables. Incorporate expanded shale and good organic matter into the soil. This adds nutrients and improves the drainage of our heavy clay soil. Be sure to add compost and mulch to existing beds as well. An additional layer of mulch will help protect your plant's roots from cold temperatures during the winter.

Take advantage of a warm winter day (you know that 72-degree day in mid-February, early March, when you call your relatives up north and brag that you're wearing shorts while they're shoveling the driveway again!) and treat your plants to a little trim. It is easier to shape them when they are dormant and absent leaves. Their structure is more visible then. The Collin County Master Gardener Association recommends pruning trees and shrubs this time of year to remove any dead, dying, or weak limbs. And, please, folks, NO CRAPE MURDER! Topping crape myrtles ruins the plant's natural structure and jeopardizes overall plant health.

Don't forget curb appeal. A little color relieves the bleakness of an otherwise bare ground landscape. Plant cool-season annuals such as pansies, snapdragons, alyssum, etc. If you still need to get your daffodil bulbs in the ground, later is better than never. They may not do much this season, but you'll be rewarded and delightfully surprised next year with a dazzling display of beautiful blooms.

If you compost, you should still monitor your compost pile in the winter, turning and adding organic material. If you don't compost, start. Compost is a great way to replenish the nutrients in the soil. If you need help with compost, there are many books and websites to research that will help get you started.

Lastly, make a friend. Bring birds to your yard by keeping feeders full. They’ll appreciate your help through the lean times. Make friends with your neighbors by sharing plant divisions and seeds.
Help make your neighborhood a green one.

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