Fall in the High Country is never boring. Some years we have snow the first week of September, and others like this year are warm, dry and unbelievably mild. But sooner or later the frost and snow hits, and plants, gardeners and nature lovers revel in its cool crystalline beauty. Each year we say goodbye to our gardens, looking forward to spring when they awaken once again.
What does the killing frost mean to your flowers, veggies, and herbs? Well, it depends on the plant. Most perennials will start to die back, going dormant as winter approaches. If you want to make them last a bit longer, cover them with blankets, plastic, buckets, row covers, or anything else that will not break the stems. With a large area of plants this is somewhat hard to do. Save yourself some work and just appreciate the color changes after the frost, accepting the natural cycle of the seasons.
Annual flowers should be left to their defenses since their life is about to come to an end anyway. This may sound harsh, but the life cycle of an annual is one year, in which it grows, blooms like crazy, tries to set some seeds, and then dies. Annuals that are in pots can be covered to keep them frost free. You can even drag the pots into your garage or other heated area. If you have pansies, snapdragons or other cold-hard annuals, they will probably still show their beauty for quite some time.
Vegetable gardeners, you have a few choices as well. Warm season veggies are very susceptible to the slightest frost, so if you still have tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers or beans you should definitely cover those up. Tomatoes and peppers can be removed from the plants and ripened inside. Peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce, and other cool-season plants are normally fine after a light frost, but you may want to cover them to make sure.
Finally, for all of you herbies reading this you probably know there are both perennial and annual herbs. If you have annual herbs like calendula, basil, and cilantro then your options are the same as for annual flowers. Better yet, if you know the end is near, why not harvest all of your annual herbs and create some infusions, tinctures or dried herbs for tea. Tender perennial herbs such as Rosemary can be brought in for winter and placed in a sunny location, checking for bugs and diseases first. Perennial herbs like sage, parsley (biennial), thymes, mints, bee balm, lemon balm, chives, catnip, and lavenders should be fine with no protection. Harvest what you want before they go dormant for the winter and either dry, freeze or use them in your concoctions.
The first freeze of the season seems to always come too early, but it’s really just part of the natural growing cycle. So, instead of bemoaning the end of your plants, look forward to next year’s planting. Finally, give something back to Mother Earth by putting all of those frosted herbs, annuals and vegetables into the compost pile. You do have one, don’t you?
Contributed by Kathy Green of Dragonfly Dew Botanicals. Dragonfly Dew is a small, artisan-crafted, woman owned business. All of her products are handmade in small batches. Kathy is 100% committed to taking care of the earth in her choices of ingredients, services and practices. Good for your skin while being good for the planet!