October 12, 2009. Temperatures fell below 36 degrees last night – frost level – in my south-central Connecticut gardens, so all exposed tender annuals – moonflowers, impatiens, petunias, coleus for example – are nearly done. Even though a quick look through the gardens this morning showed many of my tender annuals survived last night – likely due to the closeness of stone walls or mature trees – they will succumb to the even colder temperatures forecast for later this week. By Thursday night I expect a freeze – 32 degrees or lower – pretty much on target for this area.
It’s time to put procrastination aside and harvest all herbs for winter use. My one pot of rosemary is already acclimating to its indoor home. I’ve been covering my remaining basil plants each night the temperatures were expected to fall below 50 degrees, and I still have sage and thyme I hope to dry. Sage is easy, simply cut a bunch, band the stems, and hang to dry. Thyme, marjoram, and oregano can be cut, placed in a brown paper bag, and stored in a non-humid area until crispy dry. Chives can be cut, diced, and frozen in an airtight container, for later use in cooked dishes or sauces (frozen chives become soggy and look pretty unappetizing when defrosted). If you don’t want to dry or freeze these herbs, try making vinegars – what works for chives also works for rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, and other herbs. Basil will become pesto, or I’ll blend leaves with a little oil, into a green mash. I freeze the mash into cubes in an ice cube tray, and store the cubes in a zip lock bag. The cubes make tasty additions to tomato sauces and soups all winter long.
But autumn cold temps do not stop me from gardening since underground growth has not yet ceased. Plants are pretty savvy about how to survive, so at this time of year perennials, shrubs, and trees send energy to their roots, making this a great time to transplant and divide. Don’t like how your Siberian iris have swelled beyond their allotted spot? Now’s a perfect time to thin and transplant them. Did your spring blooming bulbs come up too thickly? Dig them , thin them , and plop them back in the ground, and use firm, healthy looking thinned out bulbs for spring color elsewhere. Perturbed at how your hosta overpowered their neighbors? Take a spade to them now, when you can see the reach of their leaves, and move thinned out clumps to another hosta friendly (shady, deer protected) spot like I did here. No, those in the photo on the left are not pretty now, but that’s a moot point. Soon the top growth will be dead, but the roots will keep growing until later deep, hard freezes send them into dormancy. The hosta on the right spent their summer in pots … a welcome touch of green on a shady side porch. Now, the roots can use this late season period to firmly spread into the freshly dug soil; then next spring the plant can focus on top leafy growth.
Pining over the fact that you never got around to planting that new bed you hoped to have? Set yourself up for easy spring planting by measuring out the bed and using a layering method that gets nature to do most of the soil preparation for you. Or … just disappointed over how little time you had to garden this year and how the weeds, or underground spreaders like mint and bee balm took over? It’s not too late to yank out weeds – and pull out underground running perennials. Neaten up a bit, spread mulch, and tidy your cold weather views so you have a clean slate from which to start next year.