Gardening Tips

DID YOU KNOW? Washington County Master Gardeners provide free gardening advice to area residents. We look forward to helping you find the answers to your gardening questions. Just call us at 479-444-1755, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You also can email us anytime at

Berni’s Gardening Tips

Arkansas native Berni Kurz graduated from the University of Arkansas (UA) with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture. He first worked as an extension agent in Garland County, where he oversaw the horticulture and 4-H programs, and in Crawford County, where he led the fledgling Master Gardener program. He was promoted to Crawford County staff chair in 2002. Berni became staff chair in Washington County in 2004, overseeing one of the state’s largest Master Gardener groups. From 2019 until his retirement from the UA Cooperative Extension Service in 2022, Berni served as extension’s consumer horticulture specialist.

Berni was working for the Garland County Extension Service when he began writing a weekly gardening column for area newspapers. When he moved to Crawford County, he wrote articles for a local paper there. Based on these newspaper columns and 30-plus years of fielding gardening questions, Berni authored “Hilltop Gardening Tips,” a column that ran in the Washington County Master Gardeners Garden Thyme newsletter for many years. A condensed version of Berni’s gardening advice is offered here.

Today, Berni is director of horticulture for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville.

Kitty Sanders, photographer

Houseplants are susceptible to being overwatered. Allow growing media to dry out between watering. Unless indoor plants are growing under optimum high-light conditions, do not fertilize in winter months.

Keep holiday plants away from dry, drafty locations. Azalea, begonia, Jerusalem cherry, cyclamen, and poinsettia will last longer if watered only when soil is dry. Do not overwater. Remove foil for excess water to drain or punch a hole in the foil at each drainage hole. When possible, place in bright but not direct sunlight.

Cut back last year’s foliage of Lenten rose (Hellebores orientalis) before new flower stalks appear. Follow the old leaves down to the crown and remove the entire leaf stalk near the soil.

Cut the rosette off leggy African violets, leaving a two- to three-inch stem. Repot into clean, moist potting soil, cover with a plastic bag sealed at the top, and place in diffused light. New roots will form in about six weeks. If inadequate natural light is a problem, use a fluorescent shop light with “cool white” tubes.

Clean out birdhouses. If in need of a good bluebird house, check out Homes for Bluebirds, Inc

Provide food and water for birds. Include a variety of seeds—such as sunflower, thistle, safflower, and millet—as well as suet to draw a diversity of birds.

Recycle cut Christmas trees after the holidays. Move it outdoors and redecorate for the birds with strings of popcorn, fruit, and pine cones covered with peanut butter and dipped in birdseed.

Check all powered garden equipment, such as lawn mowers, tillers, and hedge trimmers, as well as watering equipment like hoses and sprayers to have them in fine working order. Sharpen hoes, pruners, and other garden tools.

Early blooms of spring-flowering bulbs can make good gifts for a sweetheart on February 14. Keep the plant in a bright, cool location for longer lasting blooms. Forced bulbs make poor garden flowers and should be discarded as blooms fade.

Most houseplants require less water in winter months because growth is slowed or stopped. However, dry air and especially drafts from heating vents can cause soil to dry quickly. Check soil for dryness before watering.

Evaluate if your plants are getting enough direct or indirect sunlight and consider moving struggling plants to a brighter window, but don’t place plants in drafty places or against cold windowpanes.

This is the month to plant trees. Before purchasing a tree, decide where it will be planted and what purpose it will serve—shade, screen, windbreak, etc. The biggest mistake the homeowner makes is not considering the ultimate height and spread of a tree. Choose a location that will not interfere with underground or overhead utility lines, driveways, walkways, and foundations.

Start seeds indoors for cool-season vegetables for early transplanting. Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seeds should be started five to seven weeks prior to transplanting.

Root geraniums by making cuttings and letting them air dry for a day. Place cuttings into a pot of moist potting mix, pull a gallon ziplock bag over the top, and place in an area with indirect sunlight. Within a week or two, move to a location with increased light and gradually to a window with full sunlight. Cuttings should root within three weeks. If successful, remove the bag.

As the weather warms, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, and other cool season annuals will begin to grow and bloom. Feed with a slow-release fertilizer as recommended.

Prune summer-blooming landscape plants. Maples, dogwoods, and other heavy sap bleeders can be pruned in early summer to avoid the sap flow, although bleeding is not harmful to the tree.

Narrowleaf evergreens such as junipers, arborvitae, pine, cedar, and spruce can be tip-pruned now. Do not prune any branch beyond the foliage area into the “dead zone,” as new growth may not occur due to the lack of latent buds on the remaining branch stub.

Wood ashes from the fireplace can be spread in the garden, but don’t overdo it. Wood ashes increase soil pH, and excess application can make some nutrients unavailable for plant uptake. Have soil tested to be certain of the pH before adding wood ash.

Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) makes a wonderful addition to the shade garden or naturalized area with a bloom time heralding the beginning of spring.

Plant cool-season vegetables in the last week of March but only if it’s warm enough to garden without a coat. Potatoes can be planted mid-March. Cover to protect them from freezing through April.

Plant dormant bare-root roses. Container-grown roses may be planted now through May.

Dig and divide summer- and fall-blooming perennials. Crowded daylily, Shasta daisy, gaillardia, coreopsis, and mums (to name a few) can be divided even after they start growing.

Begin pruning roses in late March. Finish pruning roses as soon as buds break. Climbing roses should be pruned by thinning out older canes, leaving the long young branches to produce the best blossoms.

You can still prune fruit trees this month up until flower buds begin to open. Also prune overgrown shrubs before growth starts. Trees with low limbs can be removed as well.

If the foliar disease called botrytis plagues your peony, begin spraying as soon as the foliage begins to emerge with a recommended fungicide containing chlorothalonil. Follow label recommendations for rate and frequency of application.

You still have time to apply a dormant oil spray onto your landscape plants which are prone to scale, such as euonymus.

Spray grape vines and fruit trees with dormant oil to control scale.

If you had foliar or fruit disease last year, you should also consider applying a fungicide now to reduce the potential for this disease being a problem again this year. Use a product such as chlorothalnil, or compounds containing copper such as High Yield Bordeaux Mix or Bonide Liquid Copper.

Fire blight prevention/control for apples is only possible early in the growing season. On apples and pears apply streptomycin (sold as Agri-Strep, Bonide Fire Blight Spray, and Fertilome Fire Blight Spray) at first bloom and then every three to four days while the tree is in bloom. Another product called AgraQuest Serenade is approved for organic use. Read its label for directions.

Check all garden equipment, lawn mowers, tillers, hedge trimmers, tools, hoses and sprayers to see if they are in fine working order before they are needed. Sharpen garden tools such as hoes and pruners now as well.

Fertilize established roses once new growth is two inches long. Use a balanced formulation.

Plant potted Easter lilies outdoors. Fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer when the flowers fade and then transplant them into your garden. They will bloom in June next year and thereafter.

In late spring you can still dig, divide, and transplant summer- and fall-blooming perennials.

Wait until after danger of frost (approximately April 15) before planting summer annuals in the garden. When selecting summer annuals, look for short, bushy plants with green leaves, well-developed root systems, and more buds than flowers.

Set outdoors transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, Swiss chard, and onions. Make a second planting of direct-sown seeds of lettuce and spinach.

Last call to plant potatoes, onion sets, kale, leaf lettuce, radishes, sugar snaps, broccoli, and similar members of the cabbage family. These vegetables can withstand a light frost without damage.

Vary planting dates of radishes, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli by a week or two with the last planting by the end of this month. This will ensure that you will have a harvest season over a longer period of time.

Direct seed sweet corn, pole beans, lima and snap beans, cantaloupe, cucumbers, summer squash, and watermelons after April 15. Wait until the end of April to early May to set out peppers and eggplant transplants.

Make your first planting of sweet corn outdoors the first week of April.

Rejuvenate liriope by using a lawn mower or weed eater to cut back the old foliage to a height of one to two inches.

Last call to prune grapes. Grapes can be pruned up to the point of bud break. Leave 40–60 buds per plant after pruning.

Begin spraying roses to control black spot disease.

Watch for cutworms and aphids in the garden. Cutworms seem to find transplants within 24 hours of planting. Aphid population can explode fast when we have a dry warm spring.

Apply crabgrass preventers before April 15. Do not apply to areas that will be seeded.

Deadhead the blooms of spring-blooming bulbs, but wait to clean up the foliage until after it has turned brown. Don’t cut the green leaves since these provide food for next year’s blooms. Fertilize with bone meal after the bulbs have finished blooming.

This is a great time to add a layer of compost or cow manure to the area around your plants to promote better plant health.

Plant herbs such as chives, oregano, mint, fennel, lemon balm, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. You can begin harvesting foliage as soon as the plants begin growing well—just try not to take more than one-third of the plant’s foliage at a time.

Grow herbs in a container and place on your deck or another spot in full sunlight. Easy to grow culinary herbs include rosemary, basil, oregano, chives, sage, and parsley. Rosemary, oregano, sage, and chives are perennials. Basil is an annual plant and parsley is a biennial forming a rosette of foliage the first year and flowering in the spring of the second growing season. After flowering the plant will die. Let it go to seed and usually you will find little parsley seedlings sprouting around the base of the declining mother plant in the fall.

Finish your garden by adding muskmelons, squash, eggplant, okra, peppers, and sweet potatoes.

Don’t plant potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers where any of them grew last year. This practice, called “crop rotation,” will help eliminate the buildup and carryover of insects and diseases.

Be careful when selecting tomato and pepper transplants in order to avoid bacterial spot disease-infested plants. Don’t purchase plants which have small yellow-green or brown spots on leaves.

If fire blight symptoms (leaves wilted and brown or black at branch tips) are severe in young apple and pear trees and tree structure is at risk, immediate pruning will be beneficial. Make cuts six to eight inches below the infection. Sterilize pruners in between cuts. Burn or destroy all diseased tissue.

Place cutworm collars around young vegetable transplants. Collars are easily made from cardboard strips.

Control caterpillars on broccoli and cabbage plants by handpicking, or use biological sprays such as Bt.

Cultural methods such as mulching, proper watering, and fertilizing help minimize the occurrence and impact of fungal leaf spot diseases. Raking diseased leaves in the fall and pruning dead or dying branches remove fungal material and help reduce new infections in the spring. In addition, thinning out excessive twig and branch growth promotes air circulation by reducing the amount of moisture present in the lower canopy.

Fertilize summer flowering plants like crape myrtle and rose of Sharon this month.

Take softwood cuttings of plants like azalea, forsythia, clematis, chrysanthemum, and geranium in late May. Dip cuttings into rooting hormone and stick into a six-inch container with good moist potting soil. Pull clear/opaque plastic bag over top and container. Place in an area with high light but indirect sun. Cutting should be well rooted in six weeks if not before.

If deer are a problem, try “deer resistant” annuals such as ageratum, snapdragon, wax begonia, cleome, dahlia, foxglove, blanket flower, and lobelia. Deer resistant perennials include yarrow, anemone, columbine, goat’s beard, astilbe, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, bleeding heart, and coneflower.

The secret of successful outdoor containers lies in regular feeding and watering. Check containers daily and water them whenever the potting mix feels dry. During our hot summers, containers in full bloom may need watering twice a day.

If you forget to feed regularly, use slow-release fertilizer pills, granules, or sachets.

If watering is a problem, try self-watering pots or add a water-retaining gel to the soil before planting. Some potting mixes now come with the water-retaining agent already mixed in. If you have several awkward baskets to water, it might be worth investing in a long-handled, hooked watering attachment for your hose. A time-saving watering technique is to install a simple drip system and have it on a relatively inexpensive timer.

Interplant spring bloomers with summer annuals. Annuals that from seed will thrive in the coming heat include sunflowers, zinnias, Mexican sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, basil, and dill. Transplants need to be monitored for water needs, more so than those planted earlier in the season.

Annual vines can continue to be seeded this month. Remember to water these young plants during the dry, hot summer.

Daylilies are in peak bloom. It is a good time to buy new daylily selections for your garden to ensure you get the color you desire. Visit a gardener with a daylily collection, but be careful—you might be the next Master Gardener to become a daylily collector.

Plant tropical water lilies when water temperatures rise above 70 degrees. For those of you who have a water garden, once you’ve had a tropical lily, you will want one year after year.

Roses could use another feeding. Apply a balanced rose fertilizer after the first show of blooms is past.

Rhizomatous begonias are not just for shade. Many varieties, especially those with bronze foliage, do well in full sun if given plenty of water and a well-drained site.

Plant pumpkins now to have jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. The small “Jack Be Little” pumpkins can be planted into July for fall harvest.

Trim back catmint (Nepeta), as well as the faded flowers of phlox, Shasta daisy, and daylily to encourage a second flowering.

Prune the big leaf or florist hydrangea when the flowers fade.

Trim yellowing and dried up foliage of spring flowering bulbs.

Pinch chrysanthemums to encourage branching.

Control corn earworms. Apply several drops of mineral oil every three to seven days once silks appear. Sprays of Bt are also effective.

Watch these landscape shrubs for insect pests: arborvitae and junipers—bagworm; boxwood and hollies—leaf miner; crape myrtle—aphid; pyracantha and azalea—lace bug.

Monitor insects and disease problems daily in your vegetable garden. Put in place the proper cultural practices to deter insects and diseases. If problems arise, determine cause of problem and explore alternative effective practices. At last resort, use minimal chemical control measures.

Watch for dark brown spots on tomato leaves. If observed, spray with a fungicide for early blight.

Keep spraying tree fruits and bunch grapes with a pest control program.

Water your plants in the morning to conserve water and reduce evaporation. Infrequent deep watering is better since it promotes deep root growth. For best results, deep-water trees and shrubs once or twice a week and flowers two to three times a week. Most plants need one inch of rainfall per week.

During summer months, mulch can be especially useful for conserving water in vegetable gardens and ornamental plantings. The mulch not only helps conserve moisture, it prevents the splashing of soil, reducing the spread of disease. It also adds organic matter to the soil and prevents many weeds. Those weeds that manage to come through the mulch are easily pulled.

Renovate strawberry beds after the berry harvest is completed.

Fertilize your container plants every two weeks with a water-soluble solution.

Plant zinnia seeds by July 4 for late bloom in annual border. The tall varieties make excellent cut flowers in late summer/fall arrangements.

Prune climbing roses and rambler roses after bloom. Remove the older canes a few inches above the graft.

Prune the fruiting canes of raspberry and blackberry plants after harvest is over. Cut canes at ground level. This will allow space for the new primocanes to develop. Tip prune primo canes when they reach height of four to six feet tall.

While spraying roses with fungicides, mix extra and spray hardy phlox and crapemyrtle to prevent powdery mildew.

Be on the lookout for Japanese beetles because they will defoliate plants in short order. If you find an infestation, use a garden insecticide (acetamiprid or carbaryl) for chewing insects). Observe all label precautions for mixing and use. Do not use dust formulations due to the problem with environmental concerns.

Blossom-end rot of tomatoes and peppers occurs when soil moisture is uneven. Water when soils begin to dry; maintain a two- to three-inch layer of mulch.

Apply a second spray to trunks of peach trees for peach borers. This is true as well for our ornamental peaches and cherries.

Hot, dry weather is ideal for spider mite development. With spider mite damage, leaves may be speckled above and yellowed below. Evergreen needles appear dull gray-green to yellow or brown. Damage may be present even before webs are noticed.

Work in the garden during mornings and evenings, when the sun is at a lower angle and the temperature is cooler. Avoid gardening between and 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Wear sunscreen and a hat. Stay hydrated.

Divide and reset oriental poppies after flowering as the foliage dies.

Keep cucumbers well-watered. Drought conditions will cause bitter fruit.

For well-established landscapes, if we do not have a substantial rainfall within two weeks following the last substantial rainfall, start watering everything, including trees you do not want to lose.

Provide more nectar for hummingbirds by planting “natural nectar feeders.” These include cardinal flower, cross vine, morning glory, bee balm, canna, and four o’clock.

Do not fertilize trees and shrubs after July 4. Fertilizing late may cause lush growth that is apt to winter kill.

Madonna lilies, bleeding heart (Dicentra), and bloodroot (Sanguinaria) can be divided and replanted.

Sow starter plants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts the first week of August for transplanting into the fall garden by mid-September. This can be tricky with extreme heat.

Plant seeds of green beans, beets, cucumbers, lettuce, mustard, radishes, spinach, summer squash, and turnips. Additional types of vegetables may also be planted, but do not plant any summer vegetable that will require more than 90 days to maturity. This should allow a good harvest before our first frost.

For fall plantings, soak vegetable seeds overnight prior to planting. Once planted, cover them with compost to avoid soil crusting. Mulch to keep planting beds moist and provide shade during initial establishment. Monitor and control insect pests that prevent a good start of plants in your fall garden.

Spider lily (Lycoris), autumn crocus (Colchicum) and Sternbergia bulbs should be planted in August.

If your annual flowers appear leggy and worn out, cut them back hard and fertilize them. They will produce a new flush of bloom in four to six weeks.

Pinch the growing tips of gourds once adequate fruit set is achieved. This directs energy into ripening fruits, rather than vine production and more fruit set.

Powdery mildew on dogwood and lilacs can be a problem. This disease is unsightly, but causes no long-term harm and rarely warrants control, though fungicides containing chlorothalonil will prove effective.

Fall webworms may become more noticeable. No need to spray or cut and burn limbs. Webworms have never and will never kill trees. For webs on low hanging limbs,  remove the web and worms by hand and destroy.

It is time later in the month to give your strawberries a nutrient boost. They will be setting flower buds deep in their crowns at this time. With ample water, nutrients, and sunlight, you can expect a good crop of berries next spring.

Prop up branches of fruit trees that are threatening to break under the weight of a heavy crop.

You can get last year’s poinsettia to flower by placing it in total uninterrupted darkness for 15 hours a day, starting the last week of the month and continuing until colored bracts appear. Give it plenty of sunlight during the day and use a soluble houseplant fertilizer as often as once a week, depending on how green leaves are.

When planting containerized plants this fall, remember to disturb or “open up” the plant’s root ball. This encourages root development into existing soil which reduces the need for watering and ultimately offers a better chance of survival.

If you plan to plant a cool-season (fescue) lawn, the best time to plant is between September 15 and October 15. Wait until next spring for warm-season grasses. Unhulled Bermudagrass seed can be planted now, but spring planting of hulled seed will provide a better stand.

Take cuttings of coleus this month to provide vigorous plants for overwintering indoors.

Herbs such as parsley, rosemary, chives, thyme, and marjoram can be dug from the garden and placed in pots now for growing indoors this winter. Place transplanted plants outdoors in an area with a lot of indirect sunlight, then move indoors in a sunny window in November before frost.

Perennials, especially spring bloomers such as peonies, can be divided now. Enrich the soil with peat moss or compost before replanting.

Prune climbing roses and rambler roses after bloom. Remove the older canes a few inches above the graft.

Prune the fruiting canes of raspberry and blackberry plants after harvest is over. Cut canes at ground level. This will allow space for the new primocanes to develop. Tip-prune primocanes when they reach a height of four to six feet.

Keep a close eye on all fall vegetable plants. Insects and diseases are more severe in the autumn.

Spider mite populations can be a problem now. View the underside of leaves with a hand lens. If you spot one or two mites per leaf, control can be achieved with a couple of applications of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Finding more than that, organic methods are found to be ineffective. You will need to use bifenthrin or kelthane. If you experience spider mites every year, take a review of your gardening methods. Spider mites can be kept in check by applying good horticultural practices.

Twig-girdler insects should be controlled if large numbers of small branches of elms, pecans, or persimmons are uniformly girdled from the tree and fall to the ground. You can prevent the next generation by destroying the fallen twigs.

Lift crowded gladioli when their leaves yellow. Cure in an airy place until dry before husking.

In preparing tropical plants (including houseplants) to make the move indoors, begin to reduce the amount of light on them by moving them to a less sunny area now and then to full shade by mid-October before bringing them indoors for the winter.

If pre-emergent control of winter-annual weeds (henbit, chickweed, annual bluegrass, etc.) is desired in lawns, the application should be completed by the second week of September. Do not treat areas that will be seeded in the fall.

Begin planting pansies in beds to establish roots before colder weather. Set out transplants in a sunny location in rich, well-drained soil. Use ornamental cabbages or kales as a backdrop for the blooms.

Plant garlic now for harvest next summer. Purchase garlic specifically for planting, or buy organic garlic. Commercial, non-organic, supermarket garlic may have been treated to inhibit sprouting. Break the garlic head into individual cloves, keeping the largest ones for planting. Plant garlic cloves about three inches apart with the pointed side up. Mulch the bed well with straw.

Collect seeds from plants such as four o’clock, cleome, and morning glory. Clip whole flower heads of cosmos, zinnia, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and dry them on screens. Remove seeds from dried flower heads and store in a cool, dry place in tightly sealed containers.

Lift caladiums for winter storage if you plan to replant them next spring. Cut the foliage off and allow the bulbs to air dry (out of direct sunlight). Once dry, store them in a cardboard box with a layer of dry peat moss or perlite. Make sure the bulbs are not touching, and then cover them completely with more peat moss or perlite.

Before bringing houseplants inside, inspect closely for insect pests such as aphids, spider mites, scale, and whitefly. Treat or dispose of infested plants to protect other houseplants.

Asian multicolored lady beetles may also be found this time of year. For gardeners they are beneficial, but a nuisance. Insects found indoors can simply be vacuumed up and released outdoors.

Destroy—do not compost—diseased leaves of plants: rose leaves with black spot, hollyhock leaves with rust, and all vegetable plant leaves with fungal diseases (tomatoes, squash vines, etc.).

Protect newly planted spring-flowering bulbs from squirrels and dogs that might dig them up by covering the areas with chicken wire. Hold off planting tulips until November when the soil temperature is cooler.

Pumpkins are now available in a range of colors at garden centers and local farmers markets. Look for ones that are firm and unblemished and have their stems still attached. Keep in a cool, dry spot to extend their use outside.

The average first frost is October 19. Expect the first killing frost (below 28 degrees F) the first week of November. Protect and extend flowers and vegetables by covering with blankets or floating row covers.

Keep up with leaves falling onto the lawn and hard surfaces. Use a mulching blade to mow over leaves and let bits decompose into the lawn. Add a bag to your mower and gather leaves as you mow, tossing chopped pieces onto the compost pile or around perennials as mulch.

Continue to feed fish in water gardens as long as they remain active. Keep falling leaves out of water by stretching a net across the surface.

Sketch out where you planted various vegetables in your garden. This will come in handy next spring when you plant, so you can rotate your crops to help prevent disease.

Consider planting plants with berries to add interest to the fall landscape. Examples include American beautyberry, deciduous holly, bittersweet, strawberry bush, Burford holly, Chinese holly, Foster holly, Nellie R. Stevens holly, nandina, pyracantha, Washington hawthorn, and dogwood. The advantage of planting trees in November is that the tree is more dormant and less apt to suffer transplant shock.

Don’t prune trees and shrubs in the fall or early winter, except to remove dead wood or hazardous branches. Pruning is an invigorating process which puts the tree in growth mode.

After the first hard killing frost (28 degrees F), garden cleanup gets into full gear. Perennial flowerbeds need a new layer of mulch, being careful not to cover crowns of perennials.

Cut faded chrysanthemums and asters to three inches above ground. Mulch around them like other perennials. Newly planted mums and asters need winter watering occasionally.

Asparagus plants need to be cut back and bedded in with a fresh layer of compost or well-rotted manure.

Rake leaves and rotten fruit from around fruit trees to help control insect populations and remove disease-causing organisms that overwinter on debris. If peach leaf curl was present in the spring, make a first winter application of chlorothalonil or a copper-based spray when all the leaves have fallen. Make a second application on a warm day in late February, before spring bud swell.

Apply tree wrap around trunks of young, smooth-barked trees such as red maples, Japanese maples, and crabapples to help prevent sunscald and frost cracks. Start wrapping at the base, overlapping one-third with each turn. This ensures the wrap will shed water. Wrap to just above the second branch and secure with stretchable tape. Remove the wrap around Easter. If left on, it can harbor insects or disease, and tape can injure the tree as it expands in the spring. Wrap the trees for the first two or three winters.

Dig caladium bulbs, dahlia tubers, elephant ear corms, and ornamental sweet potato tubers for winter storage. Dahlias and elephant ears can overwinter in place if they are heavily mulched. Once they are dug, air dry for a couple of weeks before wrapping and storing in a dry cool place.

Strawberry beds need cleaning. Apply mulch to prevent winter weeds. Be careful to keep the plant’s green leaves and crown uncovered.

Winter mulch isn’t necessary for all garden plants, but it can mean survival for some of the less hardy ones. Winter mulch protects against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil and prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants. Begin now and finish after you prune back marginal hardy perennials such as cannas once they get hit by a killing frost.

When winterizing your mower, first disconnect the spark plug wire. Drain the gasoline and oil, and replace the old oil with fresh oil. Remove grass from underneath the mower. Spray paint under the clean deck to prevent rust. Remove and clean the air filter or replace paper filters. Replace excessively worn wheels to ensure a level cut next spring. Remove blades and sharpen them before storing.

Small hollies, conifers, twisted willow, and red twig dogwoods make a great addition to winter entry/accent containers and can be added to the garden come spring.

It’s time to plant those spring-flowering bulbs you purchased earlier this fall, such as daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and crocus. Purchase bulbs and gift them for successful planting up to January 1. As you attend holiday parties and dinners, if the host is an avid gardener, present a gift of spring-flowering bulbs along with a trowel to plant them. 

Plant new trees in your landscape while they are dormant. Do not plant them too deep or with too much soil amendment. If we have a dry period during the winter, newly planted trees will need some watering, but don’t drown them. A good soaking once every two weeks by natural rainfall is perfect for winter water needs, or pull out the garden hose to accomplish this.

Once we have a hard freeze, finish up winterizing perennial beds (removing dead tops and mulching) and plan for winter chores of pruning problematic limbs out of shrubs and trees. Apply winter dormant sprays where insect or disease problems existed.

As with most perennials, cut faded chrysanthemums and aster plants to three inches above ground and then mulch around and up to the base of plants.

Begin inspecting fruit trees. Be sure to remove any remaining mummified fruits, and rake up and dispose of old leaves and branches that may harbor diseases over the winter. Review needed winter cover sprays and take action if necessary so trees have the best opportunity to set and produce fruit for next year.

Hungry mice and/or voles will chew the bark off young trees at the soil line, weakening and possibly killing the trees. Trees that have been mulched up to the trunk are especially susceptible, since mice can hide under the mulch. To protect trees, pull mulch back several inches from the trunk.

Establish new beds all winter long so you can be prepared to start planting at first signs of spring.

If you haven’t already winterized your irrigation system, do so right away to avoid broken pipes and costly repairs.

If the plants you are trying to grow enjoy a less acidic to neutral soil pH, winter is a good time to lime your soil. Your county extension office can provide instructions on how to gather soil samples and submit them for analysis. The soils lab will analyze your sample and send recommendations for the amount of lime you need to apply to your lawn and garden. It takes months for lime to react with the soil. Byf applying now, you will help bolster your spring garden. Pelletized lime is the easiest and least messy form to apply.

Make a list of needed repairs on garden tools and equipment. Repair or have them repaired during the winter while repair shops are slow, so your  equipment will be ready to use when spring gardening demands begin.