Dispose of fall leaves. While I like to keep some leaves around my perennials for extra protection in the winter, I have too many for all of them to remain for the entire season. Remove leaves from your lawn in particular so it doesn’t get smothered under wet snow. You can either add them to the compost pile or take to the recycling center.
Winterize your irrigation system.
October is when I usually have the sprinkler system blown out for the winter by an irrigation company. You can also do it yourself with an air compressor. If a freeze comes before you have a chance to fully winterize the system, make sure you protect the backflow preventer. A broken backflow assembly is a costly repair. Yes, I learned this the hard way when I first moved to Colorado.
Protecting the backflow can be done in a couple of ways:
1. Place an insulated cover over the backflow during light frosts.
2. Turn off the irrigation clock and the water valve to the main irrigation line (probably located in your basement). Open any and all valves on the backflow and on the water line heading to the backflow to allow water to drain. This will temporarily protect the system until you fully winterize it.
Put the garden to bed. I leave some perennials standing through the winter to feed the birds and provide winter interest. Others that are broken or get matted under snow get cut back to ground. In addition to producing a tidier garden, I find this also helps spread out the work and the trips to the recycling center over the following several months. You should also remove any spent annuals like sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)–although I keep the seed heads for the birds–cutting flowers, and container plantings. For more on cleaning up your garden at the end of the season, read on here.
Bring in houseplants. This month I permanently bring in my houseplants. They get a good shower to remove any insects, a feeding of fertilizer, and a new location in a sunny window. Remember to bring them in for those quick storms that pass through even before you have a chance to fully prepare them for indoor living.
Plant cover crops in the vegetable garden. Since an early September freeze brought an abrupt end to my vegetable garden (I was out of town and couldn’t get things protected), I am taking the opportunity to put cover crop seed in my raised vegetable beds. Cover crops provide nutrition to the soil, improve soil texture, and minimize erosion during the winter months. I plan to add fava beans, which will tolerate light frosts, and a blend of peas and oats which will grow quickly but die off as winter sets in. The plants will be tilled into the garden in the spring. I’m hoping this year’s efforts will improve next year’s bounty!
Michelle Provaznik is executive director of the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins, Colorado.