The Sierras are topped with snow, and the valley floor has received some much needed rain. While many vegetable gardens have frozen, others are still producing. With this beautiful weekend upon us, it is time to do some much needed fall cleanup before the snow falls to the valley floor.
When Halloween comes and goes, the first thing any homeowner thinks about is fall leaf cleanup. This is a chore that requires time and good weather. Wind especially either helps or hinders the valiant effort to contain leaves in neat piles. Many people save fallen leaves known to be pesticide- and insect-free for use in the compost pile or to add them into perennial and shrub beds as mulch. The leaves will slowly break down and feed the soil over winter.
Mulch in the form of fallen leaves, shredded bark or compost is especially helpful to our plants and the soil in which they grow. Most Nevada soils are very low in organic matter, and one of the easiest ways to increase the nutritional value of the soil is to add compost or organic matter as a top dressing. Doing this in winter helps keep moisture in the soil longer, decreases weed sprouts, and helps maintain warmer soil temps in the cool months and cooler temps in the hot months. Plus, the microorganisms feed on the topper and in turn feed your plants.
Now for the garden; have you cleared out the finished, withered plants yet? If you have not, you are not alone, and there is still time. Prewinter is the time to clean and amend those planting areas before spring. By amending your soils now with compost or aged manures, the soil will have time to settle and start breaking down the materials. This way nutrients are available when you plant seeds or starter plants in March. I love looking out the window to a clean and amended garden. It is satisfying when the snow is falling to know that when spring comes, everything is ready to go.
My rule of thumb for when to plant cool season crops like lettuce, spinach and peas is generally mid-March; but with our earlier springs, I have taken to sowing many of these seeds when my daffodils bloom. If it is too early, the seeds sit quietly and wait for the right soil temperature to sprout, and these plants do not mind snow, which is great.
If you love spring color like daffodils, now is also the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Get crocus, tulips, daffodils, grape and standard hyacinth and alliums into the ground in fall. While the soil is nice and moist, add some future color to the yard. If you live in an area where you frequently see ground squirrels, you may want to avoid tulips, or plant them in wire baskets to prevent squirrels from eating and relocating them.
There are so many chores to do in the fall, but they are all worth doing. The more you prepare your yard for winter, the easier it will be to enjoy in spring.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is a horticulturist and certified arborist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.