October "In The Grow" - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

October “In The Grow”

Q. What do I focus on now in my flower gardens? Should I be pruning things before winter? Do I need to clean up the perennials and maybe put down some mulch? What do I do to get a couple of rose bushes ready for winter?
– Mike Wadsworth West Lafayette, Ind.

A. Autumn frosts will soon take their toll on the garden. Head outside with a pair of pruners and begin cutting perennials off at the base as they turn brown. Most gardeners choose to leave ornamental grasses in place, as well as a few other perennials with winter interest such as upright sedum and blackberry lily. These should all be cut down in late winter before plant growth resumes. Evergreen perennials, including dianthus and bergenia, can be left in place and will only require some light grooming in the spring.

Remove annual flowers as they become unsightly. If you have self-seeding annuals, like cosmos and cleome, and you want more seedlings next year, make sure you scatter the seeds in the garden. I shake the spent flowers over the ground and rake the area slightly.

Give needled and broad-leaved evergreens a drink of water before winter sets in. They continue to lose moisture from their leaves even after their roots are no longer able to pull water from the soil, so it’s important for them to tank up before dormancy strikes.

A layer of winter mulch protects against heaving from wide temperature fluctuations in the soil and prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants. Heaving is most harmful to shallow-rooted or newly planted specimens. In most cases, 2-4 inches of mulch, such as straw, pine needles, hay or bark chips give adequate protection. Wait until after temperatures are consistently below freezing to apply the mulch. You aren’t trying to keep the soil from freezing; rather, you want to keep it from alternately freezing and thawing. Applying the winter mulch too early can smother the plant and encourage disease development.

Grafted roses require special care. After several freezes in late fall, pick up and remove debris from around the base of the plants. If the soil is dry, give it a thorough soaking. Then, mound the soil up around the plant to protect the graft union. A 12-inch mound, or approximately 5 gallons, of soil provides excellent protection. This will also prevent rabbits from feeding on the stems. Prepare the plant by tying the canes up with twine. Dig the soil for the mound from an area away from the roses, so as not to damage their roots. For further protection, pile additional mulch, such as straw or chopped leaves, on top of the soil mound.

Rose cones have been used with varying success, and the use of some soil mounding is still advisable. In early spring, both soil mounds and cones must be removed as soon as plants begin new growth. Soil from the mounds should be placed in another area rather than on top of the plant’s root area.

Q. I have seen a number of wild strawberry plants in our area of northeastern Indiana. The plants are small but do flower and send out runners. They do not seem to bear much fruit. Is there anything that can be done to enhance the growth and fruit bearing of these wild strawberry plants? Is there a publication that deals with nurturing wild plants native to Indiana?
– Jerry Schwan

A. There are a number of species that might be called wild strawberry and some plants that look amazingly like strawberries but are not. Some will be more responsive to improved culture than others. Our native strawberries prefer an eastern-facing slope so they receive morning, not afternoon, sun. They’re at home in a well-drained sand mix high in humus. You can increase production by weeding, watering when dry and fertilizing. You may get berries up to three-fourths inch across, although they’ll never compete with the size of commercial strawberries.

There is a fairly recent book out entitled “Field Guide to Indiana Wildflowers” that does not discuss nurturing native plants but does go into preferred habitats and that can provide a clue to culture. Another book, “Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers,” by Harry R. Phillips is from North Carolina but covers some of our Indiana wildflowers as well and may provide more of the information you seek.

Finally, check out http://www.inpaws.org/native-plants/519-2/ for more references, as recommended by INPAWS (Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society).

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