5 Tips for Putting the Garden to Bed

cutting back garden

Photo source:  Michigan State University Extension

As the leaves begin to fall across the lovely state of New Hampshire, it’s time to say goodbye to our garden beds until next season.  If you consider yourself to be an amateur gardener, you may be wondering what steps need to be taken this time of year.  Here are five tips to help ensure your garden is tucked in for the coming winter months:

  1. Divide & Plant: Fall is a great time to divide hostas, peonies, and lilies. Since the fall of 2017 has proven to be abnormally warm, there is still a little time left for planting in Belknap County. With that said, keep an eye on the weather forecast to ensure you allow enough time for roots to establish before the cold sets in. To aid this process, water newly established plants right up until the ground begins to freeze.
  2. Snip, Clip, and Prune: There seems to be two schools of thought on cleaning up garden beds at the end of a season. Some prefer to keep things clean and tidy by cutting all plants back and removing the debris. Although this option requires more time and physical labor, it is a good way to mitigate pests and diseases come spring.  An alternative to this method is to clip, snip, and drop clippings as demonstrated by Mary Tebo Davis from UNH Cooperative Extension in this video: https://youtu.be/wKQs7y4C0sA
    Simply use pruners and shears to cut back plants, but leave debris to help feed the garden. This will not only save on time, but will also help to improve soil quality. Leave the seeds of Black-Eyed Susan and Echinacea Coneflower for birds to feed on over the winter months. Other perennials such as lily stalks and ornamental grasses can serve as a garden focal point over the dreary winter months.
  3. Plant Bulbs: As we watch the last of the color fade from our gardens, we can begin dreaming of the first flowers to appear after the snow melts away. Fall is the best time to drop spring blooming bulbs such as tulips and daffodils into the ground; just make sure the soil temperature hasn’t dropped below 60 degrees. It’s also the perfect time to set garlic cloves to be harvested next season. New to growing garlic? Jeremy Delisle of UNH Cooperative Extension highlights the steps to planting a bed of garlic in this WMUR “Grow It Green” segment: https://youtu.be/fyTtctuDDw0
    To help get you started, the UNH Cooperative Extension has created this Garlic Fact Sheet
  4. Protect: The howling wind and icy temperatures aren’t too far away. Use the months of October/November to ensure tender plants and shrubs are protected from the elements. A blanket of straw can be used to protect plants such as strawberries and blueberries; look to burlap to wrap hydrangeas and ornamental evergreens; and rely on wooden structures to provide shelter for immature azaleas and rhododendrons. Check out the following fact sheets for more tips: winter protection for roses  and evergreens.
  5. Clean & Store Supplies: Once the growing season has come to an end, its time to clean and store garden supplies and tools. Start by removing any soil or debris from the tools. Follow this step by disinfecting clippers and shears by either soaking in a bleach solution for 20 minutes, wiping down with rubbing alcohol, or using disinfectant wipes. This is also a great time of year to sharpen blades to ensure clean cuts in the future. Store ceramic pots and tools in a garage, shed, or basement. Don’t forget the hose; and be sure to turn off the water supply to spigots.

Contributor:  Sarah Roberts, Master Gardener













Sanbornton Public Library Embraces Community Garden

Over 20 students from the Sanbornton Central School After School Program teamed up with Master Gardener Sandy Licata to implement a community garden at the Sanbornton Public Library. The kids enjoyed getting their hands dirty and were enthusiastic to see what they could grow. The 3×3 raised beds included marigolds, kale, cherry tomatoes, peppers, peas, and various herbs, which were available for students to take home. The library embraced the garden and utilized the project to promote programing related to healthy eating and living. A big shout out to all volunteers who planned, planted, watered, and harvested!


Save Time & Money with a Soil Test


Before you buy fertilizer for your garden, have your soil tested to discover what you really need.

Spring is finally here and you’re ready to plant a new flower garden or prepare your existing veggie garden for this year’s harvest. Before you race off to the local nursery or big box store for plants and fertilizer, consider how testing your soil can save you heaps of time and money.

The soil in Belknap County varies considerably. In fact, different areas in your yard may have different soil depending on the former uses of the land, how much top soil the home builder added and the plantings you’ve made.

The Top 8 Reasons to Test your Soil

  1. What’s in my Soil: The main reason to test your soil is to identify any problem areas and find out the:
    • pH level – Soils in New Hampshire tend to be acidic (pH levels below 7.0). Your choice of plants may need additional lime or wood ash to increase alkalinity.
    • Organic matter content – compost and manure improves soil structure and can provide needed plant nutrients.
    • Nutrient levels – plants get their nutrients from the soil.
  2. What to Plant: In addition to requirements for sun or shade, different plants require different nutrients and pH levels. If the soil qualities where you intend to plant will require a lot of additives, you may decide to take on the additional work, plant something more suited to the existing soil or choose a different location with better soil for your plants.
  3. Healthy Plants: Having the optimum level of nutrients in your soil promotes healthier plants. A stressed plant that is deprived of nutrients is more prone to disease and insect attacks. Additionally, when your plants are healthy, they’ll be more productive.  You’ll see more growth, larger flowers and more vegetables.
  4. Save Money: You’ll save money if you buy only the fertilizer your soil needs to provide the nutrients for what you’re planting. With so many different choices available, it’s difficult to choose which would be best. With the results of a soil test, you’ll know exactly what you need to add – and if you need to add anything!
  5. Save Time: You won’t spend your time adding unnecessary fertilizer or additives to your soil when you don’t need them. The best way to know exactly what you do need for your garden is from a soil test.
  6. Environmental Benefits: Fertilizer and compost can damage drinking water and the many lakes, rivers and streams in Belknap County. Applying fertilizer with nitrogen and/or phosphorus increases the likelihood that some will leech into the groundwater or run off into surface water areas. By having your soil tested, you’ll find out if your soil has enough nitrogen and phosphorus to reward you with a healthy, environmentally friendly lawn and/or garden without adding more.
  7. Lead Contamination: Lead is present in all soils, usually in very low concentrations. The amount of lead in soil can increased due to factors like – items buried underground in past years, chips of dust from lead-based paint, and/or spills of leaded gasoline used pre-1990s. Most of us do not know what has been done on our land in previous years. Screening for lead levels in your soil is important because excessive lead can affect health, especially in children. Soil tests facilitated by the UNH Cooperative Extension include lead screening.
  8. Expert Results: Do-it-yourself products are available at nursery centers and big box stores to test your soil. These tests provide an approximation of the pH level of your soil but are often unreliable. A UNH Cooperative Extension soil test provides an accurate, comprehensive analysis of your soil with specific recommendations for the plants you want to grow.

UNH Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Service

Submitting the material required for a soil test is detailed on the UNH Cooperative Extension website.

Collecting your Soil: For accurate results, it is important to follow the instructions for taking a soil sample especially the depth from which the soil is taken and mixing several samples from your gardening area together.

Completing the Form: Home Gardeners should download, complete, print and include this form.

If you’re considering planting different crops in your garden, be sure to indicate each of these under the section for Crop Codes. Naming your sample is important if you’re sending multiple samples at the same time.

Answers to Questions: Complete information on submitting the form and soil, and the time frame for results can be found on the Home Soil Testing Frequently Asked Questions page

Soil tests are processed at the UNH Cooperative Extension’s facility in Durham. You can either deliver your sample/s in person or send them by mail. A sample of 1-2 cups fits easily inside the US Postal Service’s small Priority Box for easy mailing.

Here’s to testing your way to a happy, healthy garden this summer!