University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Vermont Botanical Garden, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Getting next year's gardens ready now, cleaning up this year's garden, protecting plants from winter and deer damage, and thinking of your birds are some of the activities you should consider this month.

If you plan to enlarge garden beds or create new ones, the task will be easier next spring if you start preparing the area now. Mow or use a string trimmer to scalp the grass, then cover it with a thick layer of damp newspapers followed by a thick layer of mulch - shredded leaves or hay are good choices. If necessary, cover the area with a tarp to keep leaves from blowing away.

Once frost has killed back tender plants, begin cleaning out the vegetable garden and annual flower beds. Remove and discard diseased plant material and add the rest to the compost pile. Cleaning up now not only minimizes problems with over wintering disease organisms and insects. It also makes life much easier next spring.

Now is a good time to mulch tender perennials and shrubs.  This helps trap the ground heat, and protects roots from extreme winter cold and fluctuating temperatures.  Use loose organic materials such as pine bark or shredded leaves.  Tough leaves such as oak, or thick leaves, tend to pack down and suffocate roots.  Avoid using organic materials next to shrub stems, where mice may live and chew on the stem bark.

Once the ground freezes and you have consistent temperatures in the low 20's (degrees F), it's time to protect modern hybrid roses from winter's wind and cold. The simplest method is to mound bark mulch around the base of the rose, covering the graft union (the swollen part of the stem near the ground). The mound should be about one foot tall. Wait until spring to cut back the canes above the mound.  If you have rodents, use soil instead of bark mulch or similar organic materials.

During the winter, hungry deer look for young, tender growth to eat. Often this means the branches of your new tree or shrub. To protect your plants in winter, wrap the tree or shrub with burlap or netting, covering the plant or at least extending the covering 5 to 6 feet high around the plant.  You may also try hanging bars of smelly soap near plants, which may repel them.  Just don't hang the bars on the plants, as this may attract mice!

Winter birds can add color and interest to an otherwise bleak winter landscape. To encourage birds to stay in your garden this winter, set out feeders near evergreen trees or shrubs so birds have winter cover while they feed. However, if you have bird-chasing cats, or if raiding squirrels are a problem, hang the feeders higher off the ground and away from trees and structures. Keep birdbaths ice-free and filled with fresh water.  Heated birdbaths are a good solution to avoid winter freezing.

If you are considering a live Holiday tree indoors this year, now is the time to visit a garden center if you haven't already.  Choose one with good roots in a container, or balled and burlapped, that has been well cared for this season.  Signs of this are dense growth and good foliage color.  Now is also a good time to choose that spot you'll plant it outside, to enjoy for years to come.  Dig and prepare the hole before the soil is frozen hard and covered with snow.  Make sure you cover it with boards so no one falls in!

For fall gardening events, check your local garden centers.  The Friends of the Horticulture Farm (802-864-3073 or have a talk on Giants and Pixies in the Garden by Alice Beisiegel (November 8).  Visit the Vermont Botanical Garden (802-964-5206 or for their annual April Cornell Fashion Show fund-raiser (November 3).

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