Question: Should we be doing anything special to prepare our garden for winter?

Answer: At the end of the gardening season, around the time of the first frost there are some chores that every gardener should not neglect. When the garden has finished producing the experienced gardener never just walks away until spring.

Flower and vegetable beds should be retired for the season and preliminary steps for the next year should be taken.

Lawn weed control: If you spray perennial broadleaf weeds like dandelions and plantain in fall they will absorb the chemical and move it to their roots for maximum weed control.

Lawn mowing: Continue to mow your lawn as long as the grass continues to grow and by all means do not allow leaves to collect and smother the grass.

Perennial flowers: If these flowers die back to the ground, be sure they are marked to identify them in spring. Cut back spent foliage and flowers. Mulch them well to protect the roots from winter cold.

Shrubs and trees: Wrap the trunks of young trees to prevent sun, wind and animal damage. Keep newly planted trees well watered until fall rains arrive.

Vegetable garden beds: Remove old plants. Pull out old stems and compost all healthy debris. Composting doesn't kill all diseases so don't contaminate the pile by composting diseased plants. Cover the soil by planting a cover crop of annual rye or buckwheat. They will grow even in cold weather. In spring turn them under to provide "green manure." If you don't plant a cover crop, spread a good layer of leaves and composted manure over the garden and leave it until spring, then till it in.

Tools and machinery: Prepare hand tools for winter storage by scraping off all soil from metal surfaces, and then give them a light spray of oil such as WD-40. This will prevent rust and leave the tools ready to be sharpened in early spring. If you store your power equipment indoors be sure the gas tanks are empty. Drain the old oil and fill with clean oil. Be sure tires are properly inflated before the machines are let stand over winter.

Tomato plants: After the season is over and the tomato plants have taken their trip to the compost pile what do you do with the wire supports or cages that kept them upright through the growing season? One suggestion is to place them in the areas of your yard or garden where deer have caused the most damage. If you force their bottom wire into the ground the cages will be difficult to tip over. Although they may not provide perfect protection for your perennials and shrubs they can make the area more difficult for the deer to traverse.

Terra cotta pots: If you have used either Mexican or Italian terra cotta pots as containers or cache pots during the growing season bring them indoors for the winter. Even the best terra cotta absorbs some water. When this freezes it cracks some of the surface of the terra cotta causing it to flake off. This is called spalling and it can ruin the appearance of the containers. To prevent this, simply store the terra cotta pots in a basement or garage where the temperatures will stay above freezing over winter.

Leaves: Unless you like to throw away good organic matter and get blisters on your hand in the process, forget raking and bagging your leaves. Mulch-mow them instead. The chopped leaves left by the mower cover the ground between grass blades and decay, adding to the quality of the soil. And the appearance is as good as if you had raked.

Taking these steps in fall will make sure your garden beds, hardy plants and equipment will be ready for next spring when the weather tells you it is time to get out into the yard and garden for another season. On a final note, keep weeding!

Question: Why is the fall foliage color so intense this year?

Answer: For many, fall is a favorite time of the year. The temperatures start to dip, chrysanthemums, anemones and other fall blooming perennials are in their glory, and the leaves on woody plant material begin to change. The Sunday drive becomes a much-anticipated excursion to enjoy autumn's glory. The golds and oranges of the native big leaf maples, the crimson red of vine maples, the russets of oaks, and the bright yellow of Oregon ash are all beautiful sights to see.

But what causes this color change and why are colors more intense in certain years? There are four main types of pigments in plant leaves depending on the species. The green pigment is chlorophyll, yellows pigments are carotene and xanthophyl and the red pigment is called anthocyanin.

Chlorophyll is constantly produced and broken down during the growing season. Chlorophyll production is related to day length. When day length is long, the rate of production is faster than the rate of breakdown. Chlorophyll gives the leaves their green color and dominates all other pigments. Since chlorophyll is light dependent, when the day length shortens, the rate of breakdown is faster than production. Chlorophyll is no longer able to dominate other pigments. Also, the cooler autumn temperatures signal the leaf to form an abscission layer that prevents the flow of produced sugars to travel down to the roots. The pigments thus build up. The lack of dominance of chlorophyll and the prevention of sugars leaving the leaf allow the other pigments to show, so yellows and reds begin to appear.

Why are some vine maples redder than others? Basic plant genetics is the answer. An inherent quality in certain plants determines their ability to produce autumn color, so some plants naturally produce stunning fall colors. Weather also plays a role in fall color display. Both hot, dry weather, or an early wet spring can influence fall color. The production of pigments is greatest when we have warm, sunny days followed by cool nights with temperatures dipping to 45 degrees F.

Fall is here so enjoy the show -whatever the color display!

EDITOR'S NOTE: For answers to local gardening questions, contact Master Gardener Rachel Gana at 642-8723.

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