By Sally Cunningham

The gardening season isn’t over just because you see November and December on the calendar. You can still do lots to be ready for a better growing season next year.

  • Plant bulbs until the ground freezes. Yes, they’d have preferred an earlier start, but they’re better off in the ground than in storage. 
  • Use those leaves. So many ways…. Chop them and leave them on the grass, although lawn experts (like those at Lakeside Sod),want you to remove any thick layer of leaves,. ) You can also rake leaves onto tree and shrub roots, put them at the bottom of a new raised bed, cover the vegetable or annuals beds with them, or add to a compost pile. (Suggestion: Be sure to chop up oak leaves, or avoid them, as they are slow to break down and can form mats that block out rainfall.)
  • Deter the deer. They are hungrier and come closer when the snow is deep and the winter wears on. Fence or cover your most precious, vulnerable plants—especially arborvitae, yews, and many other conifers. Use snow fence, chicken wire, or deer netting attached to strong posts. Make the fences more than 6 feet tall. When there is no snow, the deer are nervous about stepping on odd materials, so consider laying the fencing or carpet on the ground several feet around the bed you’re protecting.
  • Cover or shelter a few plants? Horticulturists prefer that you plant only hardy plants for your region, with ample time for them to establish roots, but sometimes you want to protect a fragile (marginally hardy) treasure, or a recently planted conifer. Never use plastic. Wrap special plants with burlap or products called Shrub Coats. You can also surround them with snow fencing, or cover them with a wooden tee-pee. In sites with high winds, a wind barrier may prevent winter burn or desiccation.
  • Start hardscape projects and outdoor improvements: Many landscapers are hard to get once April rolls around. However, they are capable of building fences, walks, patios, and pergolas even in cold weather. (Exceptions: Some weather limits some projects. Also some landscaping people also plow snow.)

Gifts for Gardeners?

If you wonder what to give your gardening friend, a surefire present–guaranteed to be popular–is a gift certificate from their favorite area nursery, garden center, or bulb/perennial supplier such as ColorBlends bulbs. It’s a gift for the future and such a joy to savor. Favorite other treasures include quality gloves, pruners, hoes, and other tools–better than they might afford for themselves. (Gardeners are usually saving the money for plants!) One of my favorite gifts ever long ago was a $50 certificate for a delivery of aged manure to be dropped off in spring. Nowadays I would be equally thrilled with a gift certificate for a spring delivery of the Big Yellow Bag of garden soil.

What not toWhat not to give?

Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in fall—the sooner the better. Ideally plant them in October but If you find On a personal note I will confess: I’m a gardener who has received themed gifts over the decades, and I know in my heart what many of us would rather not receive.  (I can be wrong, but I’m betting)  Honestly, decorative garden art, props, and signage can be oh-so-wrong, no matter how whimsical and adorable they seem to you. Style is personal; gardens get cluttered. Also, if you are a gardener you may not know the difference, but cheap tools–no matter how cute–can really hurt the gardener’s hands. When in doubt give one quality brand-name tool rather than a basketful of lower-priced pretty ones.

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Sally Cunningham is a gardening and landscape expert from WNY. She is known for many years on Channel 4 (WIVB-TV), and writes regularly for The Buffalo News and Buffalo Spree magazine. Her most recent book, Buffalo-Style Gardensdefines and praises the wonderful private gardens of our region, with design and gardening tips throughout. (Co-author Jim Charlier; St. Lynn’s Press.) It is available at Barnes & Nobel, The Bookworm, Talking Leaves, and some area gift stores and garden centers.) www.buffalostylegardens.com