In anticipation of what is to come in weather, here are some chores to prepare the garden for winter.
Roses: Modern, bush-type roses (hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras) require protection during the winter months. Iowa's low winter temperatures can severely injure and sometimes kill unprotected roses. Mounding soil around the base of each plant is an excellent way to protect these roses. Begin by removing fallen leaves and other debris from around each plant. Removal of diseased plant debris will help reduce disease problems next season. Loosely tie the canes together with twine to prevent the canes from being whipped by strong winds. Then cover the bottom 10 to 12 inches of the rose canes with soil. Place additional material, such as straw or leaves, over the mound of soil. A small amount of soil placed over the straw or leaves should hold these materials in place. Prepare modern roses for winter after plants have been hardened by several nights of temperatures in the low to mid-twenties.
Strawberries: Strawberries should be mulched in fall to prevent winter injury. Excellent mulching materials include clean, weed-free straw and chopped cornstalks. Apply 3 to 5 inches of material. After settling, the depth of the mulch should be approximately 2 to 4 inches. Allow the strawberry plants to harden or acclimate to the cool fall temperatures before mulching the bed.
Vegetable Garden: Finish harvesting root crops, such as beets, carrots, and parsnips. Afterwards, clean and till the garden. Fall clean-up and tillage provides several benefits. Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris. Removal and destruction of the diseased plant debris reduces the severity of many diseases and eliminates insect hiding places. A fall-tilled garden also dries out and warms more quickly in the spring, permitting earlier planting of cool-season crops.
Trees and Shrubs: During the winter, rabbits often gnaw on the bark of many woody plants. Heavy browsing can result in the complete girdling of small trees. Small trees with smooth, thin bark are most vulnerable to rabbit damage; examples: apple, pear, crabapple, and serviceberry trees. Other frequently damaged plants include burning bush, dogwoods, roses, and raspberries. The best way to prevent rabbit damage to young trees is to place cylinders of hardware cloth around the tree trunks. The hardware cloth cylinder should stand about 1 to 2 inches from the tree trunk and extend several inches above the expected snow depth. The bottom 2 to 3 inches should be buried beneath the soil. Small shrubs, roses, and raspberries can be protected with chicken wire fencing.
Garden Tools: Proper care of garden tools and equipment prolongs their lifetime, prevents costly repairs, and improves their performance. In fall, remove caked-on soil from shovels, spades, hoes, and rakes with a wire brush or putty knife. Wash the tools with a strong stream of water and dry. Sharpen the blades of hoes, shovels, and spades and wipe the metal surfaces with an oily rag or spray with WD-40. Sand rough wooden handles, then wipe with linseed oil to prevent cracking. Hang or store the tools in a dry location. Drain water from garden hoses. Remove grass and other debris from the underside of the lawn mower. Drain and change the oil on mowers with four-cycle engines, clean the air filter, check the spark plug and change it if worn. Start the lawn mower and let it run until it is out of gas. Sharpen the blade(s) and store the lawn mower in a dry location.
You see? There are still lots chores to get done before the winter season arrives.