Old Man Winter lands early blow; know what to do for your plants

Published 10:53 am Thursday, November 2, 2023

By Felder Rushing

Old Man Winter just landed an early first blow, a light punch to the senses to remind us that yes, cold weather and darker nights are here. There have been a lot of gardeners running in circles on the Mississippi Gardening and other Facebook pages, moaning and groaning and pouting over what is gone, or soon to be.

Not me. I see it as just another season of gardening, with its own easy opportunities and delights and other rewards. Gonna miss the big foliage elephant ears and cannas, and blousy summer flowers, but this coming season, as valid as any other, has its own rewards, plus a lot fewer chores. And fewer critters.

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But FYI here is my annual fall checklist for making the next few months more satisfying. No particular order, just things I have done, am doing, or will do over the next few days and weeks. Bet you can add a few…

I did cover a few things to get them over this first little hump, to eke out a few more weeks of herbs and veggies and  cut flowers and provide for winter garden pollinators.

When the first cold snap came along I covered my late peppers and basil with clear plastic, using rebar frame to keep the fabric off the plants and draping it all the way to the ground to capture warmth rising from the soil. And I vented it when the sun came to avoid steaming plants to death. Watered the shrubs one last time to help them resist freezes.

Raked and blew leaves onto my leaf pile and tossed frost-damaged annuals on top. Piled fallen limbs and branches and leaves for overwintering insects and lizards, and burned a few in my patio fire for the wonderful autumn smell. Adjusted my night lighting, moved a couple of gnomes so I can see them better out the window, and put some colorful glass bottles in the window like “poor man’s stained glass” to keep my pineal gland pumped with color and stave off the winter blahs. I was told to wash the windows, which like cleaning my eyeglasses made everything look clearer and brighter, and also pressure washed the flagstone to lighten the garden in the evenings.

Cleaned up and pruned outsized tropical plants and inspected for hitchhiking critters, set them in for the two cold nights but set them back out when the temps rose again. Planted two pots of winter salad greens that are pretty and actually get sweeter with frost, but which I can bring indoors temporarily if it freezes hard.

Learning from my neighbors in England, who enjoy their gardens year ’round, I made a note of what plants I have or want later to create a nice winter scene. Looking for flowering, berried, and shape/texture plants that are most interesting in the winter. They include hellebores, early narcissus, hollies, nandina, winter honeysuckle, flowering quince, camellia, eleagnus, mahonia, pansies/violas/dusty miller and other cold hardy annuals, variegated shrubs, and bright edge yucca and other cold-hardy succulents, and more. I think this is a good start, but am working around eye-catching “hard” features like my colorful bottle trees, St. Fiacre statue, big birdbath, urns, and Granny’s concrete chicken, all which create neat little vignettes.

Stopped by the garden center for fresh bird seed to attract color, motion, and drama to the garden (still trying to ignore squirrels), and grabbed a double handful of paperwhite bulbs to force indoors later, including some for neighbors’ kids to enjoy and learn from. Finally, I stopped feeding the outdoor goldfish for the winter.

Now what? Just…enjoy?

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.