Gardeners: Ready for the Cold Winter Months?

Lush Green Garden

The weather is getting cooler and the days are getting shorter -- which means it's time to prepare your garden for the cold winter months that lie ahead. You may also be thinking about the season's first frost. It's important to get your vegetables harvested in time, and here in Boise, Idaho, fall's first frost can begin as early as the first week of October.

Predict The First Frost

It's fairly easy to predict a frost -- the weather offers plenty of clues for homeowners who are getting ready to wrap up the gardening season. One of the first predictors is the day's high temperature. If temperatures rose to 75, it's not very likely nighttime temperatures will dip below 32. Another telling clue is the wind. On still nights, cold air is easily allowed to pool near the ground, whereas a light breeze will stir things up. A heavy, cold wind will usher out the warm air that hovers near the ground. Clouds are another thing that can stave off a frost. If the sun sets through a blanket of thick clouds, the clouds will slow radiational cooling. If all else fails, you can always tune in to the evening weather report, and if the dew point is above 45 degrees, don't worry about the frost.

Winter FrostThe location of your garden can also change the way your plants respond to the cold weather. Gardens that are located on slopes or high ground have a greater likelihood to survive, as opposed to those planted in the lowest parts of the valley -- and the plants that grow closest to the ground have a better chance to survive a frost with the added protection provided by the warmth of the earth.

There are two types of weather conditions that gardeners should be aware of -- a light frost and a hard freeze. A light frost happens when temperatures hover at or below 32 degrees, a condition that allows a layer of ice crystals to form when water vapor condenses and freezes without first turning to dew. A hard freeze happens when freezing temperatures occur for a few straight hours and is severe enough to destroy vegetation and cause ice to form in still water. A hard freeze typically occurs below 28 degrees, and can occur with or without frost. Most importantly, your plants may be able to withstand a light and brief frost, but very few can manage a hard or deep freeze.

Put Your Garden To Bed

An early frost can certainly creep up from seemingly out of nowhere -- so now is the time to prepare yourself for this inevitable occurrence. While you're at it, it's a pleasant time to get outdoors with a light jacket and a good pair of gardening boots to put your garden to bed for the winter. Mostly a matter of cleaning and covering up -- it's the time when your plants are getting ready for a season of dormancy. One of the first things on your garden clean up checklist is to clear away blackened stems and foliage to prevent disease pathogens and insect eggs over the upcoming cold winter months. It is now, before temperatures get too cold, to take care of your garden so when spring comes your garden will produce colorful blooms. Chop, clip and tidy up by removing all unwanted debris, and besides preventing unwanted pests and disease, your garden will retain a cared for look the whole season.

Small Overgrown GardenAfter clearing your garden of all debris, weeds and invasive plants, it's easy to get started preparing beds for spring. Now is a great time to test your soil and amend it before the prime planting season. With the cooler weather, it's a nice time to break new ground. You can top beds off with a 3 to 4 inch layer of compost and leave it. Throughout the winter, nutrients will saturate the soil and give you a nice head start for spring.

Free yourself from a troubling spring by dividing perennials now. Because the plants are going dormant, it won't be quite as shocking when you go in with the cutting, chopping and transplanting. This time of year the soil is generally still warm and with autumn rains, there's a steady feed of water to the transplants, ensuring a healthy start in spring.

Plant Some Fall Bulbs

In addition to putting your garden to bed, now is also the time to plant some fall bulbs. Indeed, the prime growing season is over, but fall planted bulbs will be your first blooms next year after they spend the winter months developing roots -- so if you thought all gardening was over, think again! Now is a great time to purchase bulbs. They're everywhere. Plant your bulbs anytime before the ground freezes, and you'll want to do so soon after you buy them. Choose a site that contains lots of sun and well drained soil and work some compost in. One of the great things about bulbs is how foolproof they are. Plant the pointy end up, and even if you don't manage, they're still likely to find their way topside. Large bulbs, plant about 8 inches deep, and smaller bulbs, plant about 5 inches deep.

Saffron BulbsPlanting fall bulbs will yield great results for a small amount of effort. The results are only limited by your imagination. With just one afternoon of some hearty bulb planting, you can expect a vibrant and colorful display next year, whether it's in the garden or in front of the house. Need some ideas for some spectacular fall bulbs for a brilliant display come spring? Try dutch iris, Darwin hybrid tulips, parrot tulips and apricot daffodils.

Hughes Real Estate Group is Boise, Idaho's number one real estate team for both buyers and sellers. Give us a call anytime at (208) 571-7145 to get your search for the perfect home started, whether it's in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa or Kuna.

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