Some time ago, in the gym, a fellow gardener (and actually a much better gardener than I am), said to me, I always read your column, Carol and its very useful.
Then she added, I always know all about the content, as she surely would, of course.
But whats really helpful? It keeps me on my toes.
So here, close to summers end is what you should be doing now, should have already done, or shouldnt be doing at all. Just to keep you on your toes.
Lets start with feeding, i.e. adding fertilizer. You should have done your last feeding in August. If you didnt do it then, DONT do it now. Not only will it not help, but it will do harm. The last thing you want to do when the first frost is imminent - and despite the recent hideous heat, it will be here any minute is to encourage growth. What you do want is the exact opposite. You want the plant to simmer down, so to speak, to begin to go dormant, as it naturally would as the dark comes earlier each night, and not put out tender new growth which would be killed in the first frost, thus creating necessary repairs for the plant to make or attempt.
Judicious pruning is in order, but if you are even a little uncertain as to how to proceed, go on line and check. Some plants should indeed be cut back firmly, peonies and roses, just to name two. But be sure you know what youre doing. Rhododendrons, for example, have already set their buds for next year. If you chop them off, there will be no bloom. But you can see the buds if you look carefully, so if you want to prune, proceed with caution. My rhodies did very poorly this year and as I drive around the Island it seems to me that other peoples did, too. I know several gardeners, including one family member, who simply cut theirs to the ground this past spring, thereby sacrificing bloom for this year, but now at summers end, have genuinely robust shrubs.
You should be buying mulch, as much as you can afford. Following frost, weed, then mulch, the heavier the better. Do not, under any circumstances, accept the various offers which are always around of free mulch. It may be free as far as funds are concerned, but it most assuredly puts you on the path to significant labor and possible harm, as it is far from sterile. It is actually filled with weed seeds and germs. Commercial mulch has been sterilized.
Thinking about your tools, many garden centers have end of season sales, so its a good time to assess what you have and what you might need, and then, of course, theres always simply what you might want. As for the tools you have, try not to succumb to just putting them aside. Wash them well, preferably in the dishwasher if you have one, and store them carefully. If the handles need painting, take care of it now. Come spring youll be glad you did.
As for records, and records are important, did you ever get around to buying/starting that garden book? No? Even after all the columns Ive written haranguing you? Dreadful! Go right now and buy one. It neednt be fancy. Stand opposite the cheese section in the IGA and turn around. See those black and white notebooks you had in seventh grade? Perfect. Buy one and make your first entries, carefully dated. And if you already have one, as I hope you do, sit down and write. What went well this summer, and what didnt? What do you wish youd done and failed to do? Staple a copy of your bulb order on one of the pages. Excellent. Job well done. Read it carefully next spring.
So. Now are you on your toes?