October was warm and wet. This made it difficult to do the garden tasks that we associate with autumn. The rains were good though because they did help prepare trees, perennials, and shrubs for winter by deeply watering their roots. Plus everything looked so beautiful! The gardens were truly at their peak. I don't know about you but I didn't want to disturb them. This led to procrastination. Plants didn't get moved or divided. However some tasks really should be tackled right now to prepare for winter and to make things a bit easier in the spring.
If you need to transplant your peonies do it this moment! Dig the new hole large enough and ahead of time so the roots of your freshly dug peonies don't desiccate (dry out). Add a generous amount of compost mixed in with the existing soil. Don't bother with adding fertilizer... this often results in burning the roots which simply need to put their energy into reestablishing themselves. Carefully water. Keep an eye on the weather and the peonies so the roots don't dry out. Wait until spring to do your rhododendrons.
You may notice that thousands(yes, thousands) of young weeds may be growing in the bare areas of your gardens. This occurs when autumns are very warm. Get rid of them. Lightly till. Handpick. Repeat. I plan to sprinkle corn gluten in the early spring to discourage germination of weed seeds. Pay attention to the source of these weeds. Did you allow a thistle, crabgrass, or lesser burdock go to seed? Promise yourself to pay more attention to weeds next year. They can easily take over a garden!
The question I hear most often concerns how much garden cleanup should be done in the late autumn. If perennial plants suffered from disease it is important to remove as much diseased plant material now as possible. If you are thinking about tidying up the gardens that is a different matter. Remember beneficial insects need places to overwinter their eggs or pupae. A thoroughly cleaned up garden is frankly a sterile place. Leave flower heads for the birds to use as perches or for eating the seeds. Left over material from plants such as bedstraw will provide birds with nesting material next spring. Keep in mind that if a garden has everything cleaned up now there will be bare soil for the germination of weed seeds come spring.
Did you have rodent damage to your shrubs or trees last winter? It's time to use a wire wrap around the bottom down several inches into the soil and several inches above. You may think nothing is happening during the winter but come spring you will frequently see the trails that were formed under the snow. Rabbits and voles find them yummy!
If it is still warm and the earth is dry when you read this continue to water your trees and shrubs. Deep roots are the best preparation for winter! If you read this in late November you can stop the watering. If you haven't drained your garden hoses stop reading and do it this very moment. You don't want them to freeze do you? I hope that you also have already fed your grass with its most important feeding of the entire year. OK, now you can relax.