When Is The Gardening Season Over?

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I was complaining about our first snowfall on Facebook four days ago. A friend teased me, “Well, you are the cold climate gardener.” Oh, yes, I am a cold climate gardener and–I trust–a hardy soul. But this is the time of year when my heart says “Time to snuggle around the fire!” and my brain says “You still need to dig up the glads, empty all the pots, cut back the peonies, and”–well, you get the picture.

The transition from “good fall” to “bad fall” is always tough. Seemingly overnight, what used to be the low daily temperature turns into the high temperature for the day. Yes, forty degrees is the new warm. (Five degrees for you centigrade folks.) For years, the first frost has been the signal to start the end-of-season-chores, but in recent years the first snow has come hard on the heels of the first frost, and all those unfinished chores spoil my attitude toward the first snow.

row of peony foliage

If I cut these peonies down and dispose of the foliage, they will have less disease problems next year.

I really don’t want to cut back the peonies kneeling in two inches of snow–but I probably will. I will put on my big-girl snowpants and kneel in waterproof comfort and get it done. Not because it looks neater, but because the peonies had a lot less botrytis this year and I really think it’s because I’ve been cutting off the peony foliage for several years in a row. It’s made a difference. It’s worth doing.

But at what point does the garden season end? When does the unpleasantness of the weather override the worthiness of the chores being considered? It’s usually a dark, cloudy combination of wind, cold, and snow accumulation that completely impedes work getting done. I can usually see it coming in the long-term forecast, and I start practicing chore-triage, distinguishing between what I’d ideally like to get done, and things that will get ruined if I don’t take care of them.

And when that day arrives, when the snow no longer melts before the next round of snow falls, when the high temperature for the day fails to rise above freezing, my heart and my brain finally agree that winter is here. That’s when the (outdoor) gardening season is over. That’s when I can delight in fat snowflakes gently falling to earth. It’s time to tackle the long-neglected indoor chores and dream of next year’s garden.

fire in woodstove

Yes, when the gardening season is over, I’ll sit by the fire and dream…

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