It can be a fun month or a “stinky” one.  Usually a hard frost has killed the plants and the yard is knee deep in leaves. But the days are warm enough (in a sweat shirt) to work out there. I like to get as much done in the fall as I can in case we have a long wet spring.

          The tall grasses with seed heads are fun to leave and watch the small birds swing on them to get the seeds.  The cone flowers can be left for their seed heads.  The color of the birds somewhat makeup for the flower colors of summer. I watch for the appearance of the “snow birds” and declare this as the beginning of winter.  They seem to arrive in bunches and feed on the ground.  The Wisteria has been on the edge of the patio for many years and its thick tangle of branches makes a safe haven from the wind. Also on the patio is a picnic table with some feeders with wire bottoms to keep drainage good. Many birds feed on the ground but others like to be above visiting cats and eat on the table.  There are usually about 8 Doves that eat on the patio and I can sty inside where it is warm and watch through the bedroom window.  Their family can all drink with their heads down. Other birds have to tip their heads back so the water can run down their throat. At some time in the year I have counted 42 species of birds in the yard.  Thick shrubs and evergreens encourage them to come and perhaps to stay.

          By this time the pots of Water Lilies and Lotus have been sheared of their foliage and lowered down to the bottoms of the ponds along with the ones from the small portable pools around the yard. All summer I try to keep these ponds full so the birds can sit on the edge and drink. But the Lilies need to be deeper in water in Nebraska in the winter so put all of them in the bottom of the ponds that are actually 6 feet round horse tanks 24 inches deep. I have screen “lids” on the ponds to keep branches and blowing leaves out.  Until it freezes over the birds and squirrels sit on the screen and drink.  Any pond with fish in it needs a heater in it to keep just a little hole in the ice.  This makes oxygen available for the fish. With no fish the pots are fine in the bottom of a 2 feet deep pond.

          On the East side of the house are Hollies. The Grape Hollies do the best and need to be trimmed so that I can see out. The Mahonia, which have blue-black berries, do well there also. The Blue Boy and Blue Girl Hollies are in high shade.  Branches from the Cottonwood above have broken the Boy rather badly but this spring a number of new shoots came up and the part left produced enough pollen so that the Girl is quite red with berries this fall and they will last most of the winter. The stems sticking out above the snow in January is gorgeous.

          By now most of the new bulbs should be planted for their roots to get well started before the bulbs dry out.  I have planted bulbs while it was snowing but it is not fun to drag the hose out to wet them down.  I try to start a new bulb every year, if I can find them. This fall I found a few of the large orange and yellow Fritillaria.

          Their instructions said they were quite picky as they rot in wet winter. One set said to dig the hole several inches deeper than the bulb and fill that extra space with sand to help drainage.  Another said to plant on the side to keep the roots from rotting. They are in one of the drier areas as they die down in late spring.

          After the ground freezes, mulching helps to keep the soil frozen to prevent the thaw and freeze that occurs and may lift plant roots to expose them.  This also prevents early sprouting. Some of our November’s are very dry so you may need to water.  Some plants like Rhododendrons have very shallow roots so don’t go deep after moisture.  I would not fertilize after the ground freezes.

          Squirrels love to dig in newly planted bulb beds and they will eat a number of your bulbs so I like to layer a section of wire mesh (hardware cloth or chicken wire) as they can dig into a larger square (3-4 inch) fencing quite readily.  I also put ears of corn around the yard. They will eat only the tip at first but the Jays and others will clean them up.

          Some of the tender bulbs are in containers so to keep them from freezing I put the pots in the garage after the frost has put them to sleep. These are the Calla Lilies and Pineapple Lilies. The soil keeps them from drying out so bad.  They will survive out of the pots in the basement also.

          By this time most of the leaves should be down and raked up as a heavy layer on the lawn could smother it or encourage rot. I do leave them on the flower beds and under the shrubs to keep moisture in and prevent thawing on warm winter days.  Most of the bulbs will not be peeking through before February or March.  If we have a dry warm spell I will do some watering. 

          Roses tend to bloom late and need water.  They can have soil piled up around their roots if we have had a hard freeze and the leaves have dropped off. Now is a good time to pick up those dead Rose leaves to get diseases out of the beds.  I don’t usually compost them, but put them in the city compost as they have an extremely good system that gets hot enough to kill most plant diseases.

Copyright 2010