When Is The Gardening Season Over?

– Posted in: Garden chores

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…

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Pat Leuchtman November 16, 2018, 9:14 am

This fall I have been torn. My volunteer garden group who work in a public park don’t believe in fall cutting back. So in some places I do cut back and where I don’t I comfort myself with the group’s rule. And today we have a 4″ snowfall, so no more decision making on my part is necessary.

Lisa November 14, 2018, 8:30 pm

Thanks for your thoughts about fall in northern climates. We’ve taken on a northern garden in Quebec (in the Gaspe peninsula), for summer gardening, and personally, I can’t imagine not basically gardening most of the year (we live in the SE US.)

Thanks for providing your perspective.

Mel November 14, 2018, 10:41 am

One of my favorite things about gardening in Montana is that there is an end of season. As much as I love gardening, I love putting it all away for a few months, gathering by the fire (like you!) and planning/dreaming next year’s garden.

Kathy Larson November 14, 2018, 10:26 am

This really hits home.Here in Iowa we fell off the temperature cliff-several nights of 10°,following days around 20°-but I still have glads to dig,and one last clump of cannas.Do you think they are still okay?

Kathy Purdy November 14, 2018, 10:47 am

If the canna was in a container as opposed to the ground, it might have succumbed. Being surrounded by earth (as opposed to a container), plant roots are insulated from the worst of it. In the end, you won’t know until you try. The glads sometimes winter over here, so they are probably fine.

Linda from Each Little World November 14, 2018, 9:12 am

Love the good fall/ball fall analogy. We are going to have two days with temps in the mid to high 30s and I need to get it all down now. Much colder for this early in Nov. ugh.

Kathy Purdy November 14, 2018, 5:44 pm

Linda, I used to get perplexed by people who consider fall their favorite season. I finally figured out that they don’t count “bad” fall in their reckoning. I guess I wouldn’t like spring so much if I considered mud season the main part of it. I only think of “good” spring as spring, so why not give fall the same consideration?

Joanne C Toft November 14, 2018, 8:55 am

Our fall ended quickly as well. There is a point that it is just to cold to do much outdoors. When it is 6 degrees with a light coating of snow those final leaves I wanted off the lawn just aren’t going to get raked or mowed. I had hoped they would be another round of mulch for the garden beds but not this year. There is a hint of warmth for today and tomorrow – maybe 36 degrees – it will feel like spring has come. 🙂

jenny November 14, 2018, 8:33 am

The gardening season is never over for me. That’s what comes of living in the south. I wish we could have a break. This year I feel cheated because we never had our ‘good fall’ But his morning, as the temperature dipped into the 20s last night, it will be over for many of my plants.

Kathy Purdy November 14, 2018, 8:47 am

In truth, my gardening season doesn’t end–it just moves inside. But it does take on a slower pace. And if you consider trail maintenance gardening, I garden sporadically throughout the winter as well.

Kathy November 14, 2018, 7:50 am

Sure don’t miss those days Kathy! Because I leave for my winter home, I get my chores done early – of course, now my garden planning revolves around my absence. What goes in the new garden must absolutely be fuss free and not in need of any late fall or early spring treatment. It is liberating! And of course, what I plant in my winter home also revolves around my absence. I will have the two toughest gardens in town! LOL That fire looks divine! Enjoy! I can smell the mac-n-cheese baking in the oven. Now I’m dreaming …

Lisa at Greenbow November 14, 2018, 6:35 am

We are having a colder than normal fall. I don’t mind the cold so much but wind and rain will send me inside before most anything else. Wind always makes life seem so dreary, cold and uncomfortable. I still have leaves to contend with but that is about all.