Holly Wise

Depending on the weather, last minute gardening chores can be squeezed in during early November, leaving December a time to relax and enjoy looking through 2015 gardening catalogs as they arrive by mail or online.


Piles of fallen leaves should not just sit on top of a lawn all winter long. They can mat together, causing damage to the turf grass crowns. Leaves should be shredded using a mower, with the small pieces allowed to filter between the grass blades, or can be added back as a thin layer of mulch to garden beds, where they will break down and add natural nutrients. Some folks rake and bag their excess leaves, saving them to be shredded in the spring. Then they add them as a mulch and weed barrier around perennial flowers and/or vegetable plants.


If one has not had time to tend to roses after the hard frost in October, November can be a good month to winterize them while temperatures are still relatively mild. Soil should be mounded up around the base of the Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora and Floribunda plants 10 to 12 inches deep. The mounded soil will add winter protection. Prune back the rose canes that are taller than two feet or tie them to a stake so they don’t not get wind-whipped.


Loosen the canes of climbing roses from their structure and tie them together. Bend the canes arching them near the plant base to avoid breakage, and lay them at ground level, pinning them down with crossed stakes. Mound the canes with soil and mark them so once spring comes you can carefully remove the soil and reattach the canes to their structure.


Ornamental grasses can be cut back or left for the winter months. Taller ornamental grasses may need some staking to prevent the blades from getting weighed down with snow. Grasses can add some winter interest in a landscape and offer a place for the birds to congregate.


Gardening tools and equipment should be cleaned and prepped for winter storage. Lawn mower blades can be sharpened, spark plugs changed, oil changed and gasoline drained. Some folks will instead add a fuel stabilizer to a full tank of gas before storing their mowers. Garden tools and planting containers can be cleaned and stored. Soak planting containers with a bleach and water based solution to disinfect them.


Last winter, many trees and shrubs were damaged from the sub-zero temperatures, winds and warm sun. Evergreens needles and leaves transpire moisture during the winter leading to desiccation, the drying out of needles. If an evergreen dries out too much dead brown areas may be seen come spring on the plant material. An autumn without much rainfall may increase the chances of this happening. To help reduce moisture lost during the winter months, give your evergreen trees and shrubs a deep soaking of water before the ground freezes.


Deciduous trees that have thin bark may show signs of splitting on the trunks caused by sunscald. This can happen when the air temperature on a sunny day warms the tree trunk, especially on the southwest side. After the sun goes down temperatures fall back causing cracking/splitting. To help reduce this cracking, the trunks can be wrapped with burlap strips or commercial tree wrap, or even shaded with a wooden board. All of these preventive methods reflect sunlight and will help reduce the buildup of heat during the day, thus reducing the temperature fluctuations that cause splitting. Once spring has arrived make sure all trunk wraps are removed, to prevent insect or moisture damage.


Rodent damage to trees can be prevented by making sure mulch is pulled away from the base of the trunks. Hardware cloth, galvanized screening or tree wrap can be used to protect young, thin-barked deciduous trees and shrubs from mice and rabbit damage.


— Holly Wise, Consumer Horticulture Extension Educator, CCE Oneida County


May and June bring much delight to gardeners with the longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures to tackle various timely gardening chores.

Spring is a good time to set up your home compost systems. Compost is the end product of decomposed yard wastes such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds, and plant based kitchen scraps. It returns organic matter back to the soil that adds nutrients to help plants grow healthy.

You can add rain barrels to collect rainwater, which will help reduce municipal or well water needs. To prevent mosquitos from laying eggs, use a barrel with a fine screen over the top or use commercially available floating mosquito controls.
Lawn Care: Cool -season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fescues are popular lawn grasses grown in New York State. They love cooler weather and during the spring months put on 60% of their growth.
Lawn mowing tips:
• Set your mower at 3 inches or its highest setting
• Mow frequently when the lawn is actively growing
• Do not use a bag or catcher; leave clippings on the lawn
• Use a sharp blade (blades should be sharpen at least once a year)

• Fertilize spring flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus)
Late May or early June is a good time, after danger of a hard frost, to plant summer/fall flowering bulbs such as dahlias, cannas, begonias, gladioluses, and crocosmia.
• Gardeners usually start planting annual flowers around Memorial Day Weekend and into the beginning of June. Make sure the danger of frost is past. You may need to cover up plants if cold temperatures are predicted at night.
• Plan to add annuals to flower beds, companion vegetable gardens, and containers when temperatures are warm.

• Divide summer and fall blooming perennials that are outgrowing their spaces.
• Add spring blooming perennials to your garden beds such as Lenton rose, columbines, bleeding hearts, moss phlox, and primroses.
• Plan to bring color throughout the gardening months by adding a sequence of blooming perennial plants.

• Prune out dead rose canes to shape the plant and open up the interior canes for better air circulation.
• Check soil pH and adjust if necessary. Roses grow best in soil with a pH between 6.5 and 6.8
• Add organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost. Phosphorus may be added at planting time to help produce good roots.
• Fertilizer may be applied during the growing season to encourage repeat of rose blooms.

• Start cucumber, melon and squash seeds indoors in early May.
• Early May is also a good time to transplant onion sets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and lettuce seedlings into the garden.
• Assemble a wire compost bin right in your vegetable garden. Place a layer of sticks at the bottom of the wire bin followed by a layer of straw to help air flow to speed up the decomposition process as weeds are added.

Trees & Shrubs:
• Prune out the dead wood.
• Adjust pH if woody plants are showing signs of nutrient deficiency.
• Fertilize young trees with slow-release fertilizer and water regularly and deeply.
• Prune spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs right after bloom time.

— Holly Wise, Extension Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County