Finish your fall gardening chores before feasting | Columnists


Phyllis Webster holds a degree in journalism before embarking on a long career in public relations and marketing. She has lived in Granbury since 1998 and is very involved in the community. She is an award-winning writer and photographer and a master gardener. She has been the author of Garden Patch since 2001.

At the end of November, thoughts wander to celebratory meals and shopping lists. But before you feast on that stuffed turkey, it’s best to get your gardening chores done in the fall, especially those that are time sensitive like planting onions and preparing flower beds for the frosty weather.

Finish planting cool season annuals, such as pansies, in containers or in the ground. Add a layer of mulch on top of the roots and pour it deep before they freeze hard. If necessary, pluck all winter-damaged flowers by spring. Also, stop planting vegetable transplants in the cooler season and remember to stock up on floating row covers to protect vegetable and herb gardens. Make a list of other tender plants and plan to protect them from frost.

Keep planting trees and shrubs. Water them well to encourage root growth that will last all winter. Also, finish planting spring bulbs like daffodils. Cut off used or winter-damaged annual and perennial leaves and flowers. Leave some seed heads as food for the birds. Finish digging and dividing spring-flowering perennials like irises.

Make use of fallen leaves. Add leaves and clippings to a compost heap, but don’t add diseased plant material. Also, ride a mower over fallen leaves on the lawn. The remains of leaves act like grass clippings as free fertilizer.

Although tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) may continue to bloom, it is time to practice hard love. Cut the plants back to about 6 inches. Unlike native milkweed, tropical milkweed can harm monarch butterflies when it reproduces in gardens in winter. Why? First, it can disrupt the monarch’s migration. Butterflies will linger in Texas gardens long after they are due to migrate to Mexico.

In addition, monarchs will continue to breed, resulting in winter larvae that are more likely to become infected with the debilitating parasite Ophryocystis Elektroscirrha (OE). OE spreads through spores. Infected milkweed plants pass the parasite on to butterflies. Newly hatched butterflies then migrate to wintering sites and spread the deadly disease to entire populations. In mild winters, topical milkweed can grow back, so the plants are continually pruned back.

Native milkweed, which dies on its own, is the ideal plant to attract and support monarch butterflies. For example, the native antelope milkweed is a preferred plant for use in Hood and the surrounding counties. Although difficult to find at nurseries, native milkweed plants are available through the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin.

For answers to your horticultural questions, please call Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 or visit online.

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