Putting beds to bed

  • Get those pruners ready to give your garden a good cleanup. Getty Images/iStockphoto

For the Gazette
Published: 10/5/2018 10:11:43 AM

Q:  What do I need to do this month to prepare my garden for winter?

A: Vivid red and bright orange dots of color are popping in Maple trees all over Pioneer Valley hillsides now. Autumn is in full swing! Sweater weather is good sleeping weather and leads to thinking about putting those gardens to bed for the winter. What to do now? 

 Get those pruners ready!  A brisk fall garden cleanup this October should focus on removing spent plants with an eye toward preparing the garden for a successful spring.  Pull up annual flowers and vegetable plants and add them to the compost pile. They will become a wonderful soil amendment. Any diseased ones should be thrown away in the garbage bin, not the compost pile. Diseased perennials should be cut back within a few inches of the ground. Again, those leaves go in the garbage. Thoroughly wash stakes or cages that touched or surrounded a sick plant with hot, soapy water or wipe them down with a mild bleach solution. Disinfect any tools that cut or removed diseased plants. Also cut back any self-seeding plant if it spreads unwanted seeds. 

 In the midst of all this bustle, kindly pause to remember the pollinators. Consider leaving up at least a few stems for bees and butterflies. Some plants are particularly beneficial for wildlife and insects during winter months. For example, the hollow stems of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are nesting material for various bee species whose pollinating services gardeners will need next spring. Cast an eye, too, on the stems of dead stalks before cutting them to see if they might harbor future Swallowtail butterflies. Those hardy beauties stick around for winter, often hiding in their chrysalis’ on plant stems to ride out the snow and cold. These little steps go a long way toward helping ensure gardens will have thriving pollinators for both plants and people to enjoy.

 Have a gardening dilemma? Please send your questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at 

AskAMasterGardener@wmmga.org.One question will be selected and answered per week. 


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