Timely tips for your garden!
Your Community Gardening Newsletter
November/December 2020 Volume 8 Number 11
Register for these upcoming Master Gardener Holiday Programs

Forcing Amaryllis for the Winter Season Nov 12, 2020 06:30 PM

Making a Boxwood Wreath Nov 19, 2020 06:30 PM

Making a Holiday Centerpiece Dec 10, 2020 06:30 PM 

History and Horticulture of the Holidays Dec 16, 2020 06:30 PM

As a subscriber to our newsletter you should have gotten an e-invitation to register for all these events, or you can register on our website!
Were you looking for something to do?
  •  If you haven't already done so, finish mulching the garden
  •  Harvest any remaining vegetables, (except carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbages, kale and broccoli)   
  • Fall is a great time to collect soil samples for testing in order to keep current on your garden's nutrient status. Labs are often less busy and testing in fall allows plenty of time to receive your results and act on recommendations. 
  • Consider what your plants may have lacked this year and think about the nutrients you would like to work into the soil this fall.
  • Also note particular insect or disease problems encountered this year so you can ponder preventative measures for next year.
  • Make notes of what did or didn't work.  What varieties did you grow, which ones grew well, which ones did not do well, what did you like, what not so much. 
  • Make notes of this year's garden layout. This will make planning a rotation schedule for next year's garden easier.
  • Collect seeds from open-pollinated flowers and vegetables and store in a cool, dry place.
  • Clean tools thoroughly and wipe them with vegetable oil to prevent rusting.
  • Sharpen pruners, shovels and spades before storing them for the winter
  • Enjoy the stored, frozen or canned crops from your garden.
  •  Be thankful for the riches of our gardens and lives! 
  • Have Happy Holidays!
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The Master Gardener Hotline is Closed for the season
You can call our Horticulture Hotline to ask a garden-related question and get advice from our experts.
Hotline Hours: Tuesday: 9:00 am - noon, March through October

You can also get Master Gardener advice online anytime by submitting questions at  Ask a Master Gardener
Start a compost pile
Fall is a great time to start a compost pile. You should have lots of material to get it started as you clean up your garden. The only caution is DON'T USE DISEASED OT INSECT-INFESTED MATERIAL in your compost pile. Just combine roughly equal parts of "green" material like fresh grass clippings, plants, weeds that have not gone to seed, kitchen vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds (not meat, bones and fatty foods such as cheese, salad dressing and leftover cooking oil), with "brown" material like fallen leaves and straw. Do not add pet or human wastes to a compost pile. Moisten your pile some, but not too much as you put it together. You can do this in a bin or a pile. Choose a shady spot that is convenient to your garden. For best results turn or mix your pile periodically, but not during the winter.
For more detailed information check out Composting at Home from the EPA, How to Compost from Arkansas Extension, or Composting from Maryland Extension.
Leave your garden messy
When it comes to the vegetable garden, cleanliness is the way to go. It is important to remove diseased and bug-infested plant material to minimize problems for next year. But outside the vegetable garden it pays to to have a messy garden. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, through its Habitat Network program is asking gardeners to leave your garden messy. The Habitat Network notes that "Gardens are havens for wildlife–even at the end of the growing season. Overgrown grassy reeds, dried flower stalks, and shrubby fruit-filled branches provide food, cover, and protection in the fall and winter for animals big and small."

As you might expect for a messy garden program, it is easy to do. Leave dried flower heads and ornamental grasses standing until spring, and wait until after several 50 degree days to remove them, to let overwintering pollinators wake up and move on.

Free organic matter
It is a recurring theme-plants like soil that is rich in organic matter.  Well now is a time to add some, and it is FREE.  The leaves from your trees are an excellent source of organic matter for the vegetable garden. But don't just pile them on.  Shred them first.  Shredding them will prevent matting, speed up their decomposition, and help with their dispersion in the spring.

You can use your mower to remove the leaves from your lawn and then add them to the vegetable garden. Since mowing chops the leaves into smaller pieces, they will break down faster once added to the soil of your vegetable garden.  You will probably also pick up some grass clippings which contain nitrogen and will promote faster composing.

Just be careful if you put down lawn fertilizer with weed killer on it, you do not want that in your garden. In that case just rake your leaves so that you do not pick up grass that has been treated.

Some people are concerned that leaves, particularly oak but also maple, are acid and will change the pH of the soil.  A Michigan State study found that no changes in pH occurred after six seasons of mulching tree leaves. The study also found no changes regarding phosphorous or potassium.  According to Oregon State, although oak leaves are acid pH (4.5 to 4.7) when they are fresh, the breakdown products are neutral to slightly alkaline. Also, in all but the sandiest soils, soil pH is strongly buffered (resists change), so soil pH changes very little after applying most mulches.

There is, however,  a different problem to be aware of with leaves, as well as straw, hay, wood chips, sawdust and cornstalks (brown matter), all of which are low in nitrogen.  Soil microorganisms cannot get enough nitrogen from these materials to adequately break them down into humus; instead, they absorb additional nitrogen from the soil. In fact, so much soil nitrogen is "tied up" by the bacteria that garden plants may not have access to sufficient amounts of nitrogen for healthy growth.

Note that this is not really a problem if you just mulch, since only the soil surface is involved and not the root zone. It is a bigger concern if the material is worked into the soil.

To overcome the problem, add 1 pound of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, per 100 square feet and work it into the mulch.  This extra nitrogen will be gone by spring, and you may want to add more when you plant.  Symptoms of a nitrogen deficiency are yellow foliage and stunted growth, so watch for that, and sidedress with additional nitrogen if necessary.

If you are going to till, spread dry leaves, (and grass clippings and clean plant residue) on the beds and work these materials into the top 5-7 inches of soil with a rototiller or shovel.  If you are going no-till, just spread the leaves on the beds.

Till or no-till, it helps to put down a layer of mulch, but mulching is particularly important if you have tilled in the fall since it will prevent erosion and compaction over the winter.
Be on the lookout for
End of the season deals.  You may be able to find tools and supplies at a discount as retailers are looking to clear out this year's inventory. Online retailers often start offering free shipping, too.

Uninvited guests.  It may be cold outside, but inside it is nice and warm And that can lead to uninvited guests. The University of Nebraska Extension notes that insects employ a variety of tactics for winter survival. "One is simply to move in with humans. Insects such as ladybird beetles (ladybugs), cluster flies, elm leaf beetles and boxelder bugs overwinter as adults in wall voids, attics and other out-of-the-way places in homes and other structures." Stink bugs do the same.

(The University of Wisconsin/Milwaikee notes that "Ladybugs, or Ladybird beetles, were named in the Middle Ages when the beetles controlled a plague of aphids that was having its way with the grape crop. Grapes and grape by-products were sufficiently important that the beetle was subsequently blessed by the Church with the name "Our Lady's beetle.")

Cornell notes that the best way to deal with insects entering the home to make sure they don't find a way in. Check around windows and doors, looking for openings and seal gaps with weatherproof sealant. Make sure screens are in good shape; even small openings will allow pests in. If you forgot to do that this fall, the best approach is to vacuum them up as you see them. Try not to crush them, as stink bugs and Asian lady beetles give off an unpleasant odor. And as the University of New Hampshire notes, "empty the bag or canister outside quickly before they crawl out again."
Quick tips
Bring in clay pots or garden ornaments so they won't crack or break from fluctuating winter temperatures.
If you grow ornamental sweet potatoes, take some cuttings and root them in water. Once they have nice roots, pot them up and grow them as houseplants.

If you have chives, dig up part of a clump (or 2) and pot them up, then bury the pots outside, mulch well, and mark the spot. Then, on a nice day in January or February dig up the pot and bring it inside. In no time you will have a pot of fresh chives to brighten your winter meals.

If you use a calendar program on your phone or computer to keep track of your schedule, you can also use it to keep track of your garden.  You can add reminders for when to plant succession crops or when you need to thin your carrots. You can note when you planted your crops and when you started to harvest, to calculate your own "days to harvest." You can also add dates of first and last frost, so you can track your micro-climate from year to year.

As an alternative, look for an extra FREE calendar that businesses pass out this time of year and dedicate it to your garden. Mark frost dates, planting dates, track your succession planting, and weather conditions. You can also track your days to harvest and yield.
It is fun to use your phone to take pictures in your garden and it is a great way to remind yourself of what was planted where for crop rotation and to make sure you do not dig in the wrong spot by mistake. But you should be a bit careful. A man in England posted a selfie he took in his garden. Unfortunately, when the police noticed that all the plants behind him were marijuana, they stopped for a visit, and arrested him!

If you are leaving carrots and other root crops in the ground for winter harvest, be sure to mark the rows. Cover with a thick layer of straw or hay after the first frost to prevent the soil from freezing up.  You can also put some black plastic over a section of your carrots or parsnips for a few days to warm up the soil so you can dig them.

Kale should overwinter without protection and get some new growth and bloom in the early spring for pollinators.  You can even go out in the winter for a kale-cicle.
A little bit about overwintering bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers
In addition to vegetables most of us like to grow flowers. Not only are they great to bring in pollinators and beneficial insects, they brighten our gardens. If you grow things like tuberous begonias, gladiolus, cannas, caladium or dahlias you can save a lot of money by digging them in the fall and storing them for the winter.

First, wait until after a killing frost has turned the foliage yellow. Then dig the tubers, corms, bulbs or rhizomes and cut the the stems off, leaving 1-2 inches. Brush off the soil. (If you wash it off, make sure they dry completely.) Let the tubers, corms, bulbs or rhizomes dry in a well ventilated area to cure. Then store them in mesh bags or bins with ventilation holes. You can use peat moss or vermiculite to pad them.

Then store them in a cool area. Remember to check them periodically over the winter and remove any that have started to rot.

Different tubers, corms, bulbs or rhizomes have slightly different storage preferences, so for more detailed and specific information visit Michigan State's Digging and storing tender bulbs and University of Minnesota's Time to Store Your Tender Bulbs
Some helpful links:

Submit questions online to be answered by Master Gardener Volunteers at  Ask a Master Gardener
OhioLine Yard and Garden provides fact sheets and information on a variety of gardening topics. 
The Michigan State Tip Sheets,and the Cornell Growing Guides also offer lots of gardening information that is suitable for Ohio gardens.

Buckeye Yard and Garden onLine provides timely information about Ohio growing conditions, pest, disease, and cultural problems. BYGL is updated weekly between April and October.