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Gardening Q & A

Today’s Common Gardening Questions…Answered!

What should I be doing to get my garden tools ready for winter?

If you take care of your gardening tools, they will work well and last for decades! After you’ve completed your gardening work for the fall, it’s time to clean, repair, sharpen, and store your tools for the winter. Metal tools should be cleaned by removing all dirt and plant debris with a wire brush. Use steel wool on smaller tools and medium grade sandpaper on larger ones to remove rust. Shovels and pruners should be sharpened; if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, bring your tools to a hardware store that provides sharpening services. Apply a coat of lubricant such as WD-40 to protect the metal and prevent rust. Wooden handles may be sanded to remove splinters and rough spots, and then coated with linseed oil to protect the wood. Make sure your tools are stored where they will remain dry over the winter.


When should I cut back my perennials?

If you want to cut back your perennials in the fall, you should wait for the foliage to turn yellow or brown. After they die down, cut the remainders of the plants down close to the ground. Most grasses are best left over the winter and cut back in March or early April.

Waiting until early spring to cut down your perennials is beneficial in several ways. Dried seed heads and grasses provide winter interest, as well as food and cover for birds and other wildlife. The tops of the plants provide extra protections for the crowns of the plants for the winter. It also gives the gardener a task to do on warm days in early spring when you want to be outside but the soil is too cold and wet to dig!


When can I plant my Tulips & Daffodils?

Most bulbs do best if you wait to plant until we’ve had a frost… that’s usually a good indicator that the soil has cooled enough to prevent top growth. If we do not get a frost by mid-October, I’d say go ahead and get them planted. They can easily be planted as late as Thanksgiving if need be.

There are exceptions to this rule. Iris, Colchicum, and fall blooming crocus should be planted as soon as they’re available (mid-August to mid-September).  Winter Aconite, Chionodoxa, Snowdrops, Lilies, Surprise Lilies, and Fritillaria should all be planted as soon as possible to prevent the bulbs from drying out.


I planted some evergreens and shrubs this spring. Can I stop watering now?

Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials continue to need water until the ground freezes. Around Madison, the ground usually freezes in early December! My advice is to continue to water weekly until the leaves fall from the trees. After that, water every 10-14 days through Thanksgiving weekend. This is especially important for evergreen plants, because they lose water through their leaves over the winter, but cannot draw any up from the frozen soil. If we receive an inch of rain in a week, it isn’t necessary to water that week.

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