This fall, be on alert for early frosts. While they are welcome for mosquito control, they will put an end to many flower and vegetable plants. You can cover plants with plastic or cloth if frost threatens. Cut flowers for that last bouquet and bring in green tomatoes to ripen on the windowsill.
Pinch out the tops of Brussels sprouts to speed sprout development. Keep an eye out for damage by the cross-striped cabbage worm and handpick or spray with Bt if feeding damage is noticed. The flavor of most cole crops improves when exposed to light frost. The same is true with winter squash and pumpkins. Don't leave them out if a heavy frost is predicted, however. Cure squash and pumpkins for about a week at 70 to 80 degrees F before storing at around 50 degrees F.
Pot up some small herb divisions for winter use in the kitchen. Oregano, chives, mint and thyme can be planted in clay pots, watered and sunk back into the garden bed until cool weather arrives. If you want fresh parsley or basil, plant seeds indoors now. Parsley will take about three weeks to germinate. Tender rosemary and bay plants should be brought indoors before a heavy frost occurs. Keep them in a bright, cool location during the winter months.
Start cleaning up the vegetable garden as plants deteriorate. Many insects and diseases can overwinter in garden debris. Late blight on tomatoes has been showing up sporadically in Connecticut. Any affected plants should be bagged up and placed out with the trash. Only add disease-free garden debris to the compost pile. Weed the garden one last time. A cover crop of annual ryegrass can still be sown. With a normal winter, this grass should winterkill and can be just left in place as an early-season mulch. Transplants, like broccoli, can be directed planted into it next spring.
Make notes on how the vegetable varieties in your garden did this year. Record their names, and if they did well, you'll know what to plant next year. Problem varieties can be replaced with different ones. Of all my cherry tomato varieties, I found that "Yellow Jelly Bean" is still producing, despite the fact that it was infected with several tomato diseases. It lost a lot of leaves but still set abundant fruit, which I am still picking. My "Fortex" pole beans were heavy producers, with 12- to 14-inch beans, but the Japanese beetles absolutely loved this variety. Jotting notes down now will make ordering seeds in January that much easier.
Now is a great time to have your soil tested. If the pH needs to be raised or lowered, limestone or sulfur can be added. Both take at least six months to start working. Soils low in organic matter can be amended with additions of peat moss, compost or manure. Both compost and manure can contain considerable amounts of nutrients, including phosphorus. If the nutrient levels in your garden beds are already high and more organic matter is needed, choose a low-nutrient source, like peat moss. Go to http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu for more information.
Take a look around your yard and decide where some spring flowering bulbs might be a good addition. Now is a good time to purchase bulbs. The earlier they are planted, the longer they will have for root development before the ground freezes. Bulbs like daffodils and wood hyacinths naturalize well and are avoided by deer. So far, nothing has bothered the scilla and netted irises in my garden beds either. Crocuses and tulips are sought after by people and animals alike. If squirrels or chipmunks are a problem, you can try adding a material called "Vole Bloc" or a similar sharp aggregate. Dig your planting hole a couple inches deeper than recommended, put down a 2-inch layer of aggregates, position your bulbs, and just cover the bulbs with aggregates and then fill the rest of the hole with soil. Another tactic is to lay chicken wire over newly planted bulb beds. This is not always practical if the bulbs are planted amid perennials.
Speaking of planting, early fall is a good time to plant both deciduous and evergreens. And, they are often on sale at local garden centers. Think about replacing that shade tree that came down in past years' storms or adding plants to attract birds or a specimen or two for fall color or winter bark. The key to successful fall plantings is providing enough water to see that plants go into the winter well watered.
If you have questions on what to do in your garden this month or on other indoor or outdoor gardening topics, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.