Late-fall reminders for the home gardener

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Oct. 31, 2012
- Contributed Photo

As we enter into the month of November, we are all aware that winter weather will shortly be coming our way. Most of us are wishing the rest of the month to be fairly moderate, temperature-wise, as I suspect a good number of gardeners - including myself - have chores to finish up before winter really sets in.

The first item on my list is to dig up the rest of my dahlias, cannas and gladioli. Following the stormy weather, the ground around the bulbs may be a bit wetter than one would like, but the bulbs should come out fairly easily. The foliage has definitely been “blackened by frost” from a couple of weeks ago.

Dahlias can be cut back to 3 or 4 inches, dug up and the soil around the tuberous roots can be shaken off, and they can sit in the sun for a bit to dry slightly. Then I just place them in large buckets, baskets or other containers and fill in around them with some used potting mix. They stay in the basement all winter and occasionally are checked to see if they look like they are drying out. If so, they get a light sprinkling of water.

Cannas grow massive tuberous roots in my garden, so they can be a bit challenging to dig out. I cut them down to a few inches, dig them out and place them in large plastic crates. They rarely need watering over the winter if kept around 45 to 50 degrees F.

Gladioli grow from corms. Each year the corm you plant dies, to be replaced with a younger, larger one on top of the old one. Glads can be clipped back, dug up and left to dry in a dark, moderately warm (50 degrees F) area. After a few weeks, the new corms can be separately from the old and stored in a netted grapefruit bag, or whatever else you have that allows for good air circulation. I keep these in an unheated basement as well.

Next on my list would be to take care of some of the broken branches on my trees and shrubs. A lot of broken branches can be removed using hand pruners (for branches up to 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch). Loppers come in handy for one to 1-1/2 inch stems, and anything larger than that requires either a hand or chain saw. My plan of attack is to clean up the worst now and follow up with some judicious pruning in the spring. Mostly I want to clean up jagged tears in the bark that would only get worse if the branch is not removed now. If the branch is just hanging on by the bark, it would continue to tear as the winter weather wages on.

Then, it is back into the vegetable garden as I have not taken in my tomato cages, stakes and bean pole teepees. If I have time left, I would remove spent plants and weed. There is still kale, chard, and leeks to harvest, but I did manage to get the garlic bulbs in over this past weekend.

Finish raking up the leaves if you haven’t already done so, which may be the case because so many trees still had leaves before the hurricane. There may even be more leaves down now despite previous rakings. Allowing leaves to collect on lawn areas deprives grass plants of sunlight and encourages snow mold problems and vole damage. Lawns should only be 1-and-a-half to 2 inches going into the winter, so one last cutting may be necessary if we get warmer days in November that would promote turf growth.

Perennials may be cut down leaving 1 to 3 inches of stem. Diseased foliage should be put in the trash, not the compost pile. Allowing some leaves to collect around the base of perennials will serve as winter protection.

Make sure hoses are drained before storing them for the winter. Bring in, or cover, garden ornaments that are not weatherproof. Store any leftover pesticides or fertilizers in a dry spot, with temperatures above freezing. Be sure any pesticides are out of reach of children.

Make the most of these late fall days. It won’t be long until winter sets in! If you have questions about lawn or garden care, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit, or get in touch with your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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