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Take inventory of your old garden today

John Zvirovski / The Sun Blooming kale looks its best in the garden during the cold weather of fall. Take stock of what is in the garden and document any project ideas now, so you can make a solid plan during winter for the future.

John Zvirovski, Sun Garden Editor

As the new month begins and the days continue to shorten, we will find ourselves retreating from the outdoor activities and going indoors. The gardens have mostly been put to bed and many of the preparations for winter have been made. However, this is also the time to take inventory of the yard and document all of the projects and activities you want to accomplish during the next growing season.

This does not mean you have to make work out of the coming year, but it is more about making efficient plans so you have more time to relax once the warm weather returns. I like to call it garden journaling, but in reality, I do not have an actual journal, just a pad of paper and a camera.

You will find that a camera can be your best memory of the events that have happened in your garden this past year. It is the best way to document what colors work well together, which plants grew short or tall, what annuals you purchased and overall how well your garden thrived (or didn’t) during this past season.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I hardly remember where all of the spring bulbs are planted in the garden because they disappear from view by June. However, I have taken many pictures while they were in bloom, so I know where not to dig to put in new ones. When you have over 900 spring bulbs in the garden already, these are very important documents to have if you want to put more in or plant more perennials.

Pictures will show you where perennials are planted and how they perform during each of the four seasons, including winter where some can be a great source of ornamentation or source of food for the wildlife.

For example, purple flame grass begins to emerge as a thin clump of grass during spring and grows into a full thicket of green blades during the summer. By the end of summer it produces tall feathery seed heads that gracefully blow in the wind from 4 to 6 feet tall. Once autumn arrives, the leaves turn a yellow or orange color to brighten up an area of the garden where many other colors have faded. The stems stand tall throughout the winter season and the dry blades and seed heads make a rustling sound during the wintry winds.

Ornamental kale is an annual that has a striking appearance throughout the seasons. It begins as a small, thin plant of very little value in late spring. During the summer, it grows a nice full head similar to the growth of a cabbage with its open ruffle leaf edges. They are thick, squat and green most of the growing season — only gaining in size.

When the warm weather has moved out and the cool temperatures dominate, the centers begin to glow with shades of white, pink and magenta. These colors will last all the way to the Thanksgiving holiday and sometimes beyond as ornamental kale is very tolerant of cold temperatures. During the winter, plants begin to look wilted but still retain a unique effect as the snow slowly overtakes them. When the snow has departed, the plant nearly crumbles into dust and goes back into the soil.

Moving your perennials in the spring season is best for most plants, as they will have the entire summer to adapt. Document which ones need to be moved and where you would like to place them. These notes and pictures will be a great source of information when you have some free time during winter to map out a new plan.

If you are looking at project that may take some time and cost a little extra money, take your inventory and measurements now. This will allow you nearly six months to plan for the materials you need and create a comfortable budget that you can work with when the time arrives. The expenses add up very quickly when spring comes and you will find yourself making hasty purchases because you didn’t take the time to plan a little better in advance.

Some of these projects may include a new deck, gazebo, bridge, paver pathway or a small pond. Whatever the project, they all need good planning and cost efficiencies. Many times, there are clearance sales this time of year for businesses getting rid of this past season’s wares. Some of these might be best if it is purchased now.

Maybe some areas in the garden need a new layer of mulch. Begin to figure out how many bags or cubic feet you will need and write it down. Once spring arrives you will have the plan already complete along with the type of mulching product you want, and you can go purchase your products when a sale arrives without feeling rushed. Good planning now will save money in the long run.

Some other last minute items you may still consider doing this fall would be to trim back your peony and iris plants as leaving their vegetation during the winter can cause rot and disease. Also, if you have new trees that have been staked for at least a year, this is the time to remove those stakes. The trees can strengthen during the winter and withstand normal conditions from this point forward. It will promote a stronger and healthier tree.

Grab a camera, pen and pad of paper while the weather is still nice and begin creating your garden inventory. You will be amazed how quickly the list grows once you do a thorough walk through the garden. Once the spring season arrives, you will be very happy you went through the extra effort to make the new year a little more enjoyable, relaxing and cost effective through a little advanced planning.

Don’t forget to turn your clocks back an hour this weekend, as it is that time of year again where the days just get shorter and shorter. Look at the bright side, in a month and a half, they will begin to get longer again … slowly but surely.