* There have been enough cold nights to toughen up late garden stalwarts like parsley, kale, and chard, but even tough stuff has trouble when it goes below the mid-twenties. In some years, these things can hold on until Christmas, but it doesn’t hurt to cover your bets by covering some plants; there’s still quite a bit of warmth in the ground. On the other hand, you can also just pick everything that’s left, give away whatever you can’t use and call it a day until March.
* The onset of cold weather is also a reminder there’s no time to lose in the window-washing department. This loathsome chore doesn’t sound very gardenly, but you’d be surprised how much light you lose when the windows are less than clean. Any houseplants that count on those windows will be very grateful you bothered and of course there will also be a little more light for you.
* This is a good time to cast a cold eye on your summering houseplants and ask: would I buy this thing if I were browsing at the nursery? Would I buy it if it were on sale? Would I pick it up if it were sitting on the curb with a “free” sign around its neck? You know what to do if all answers are no. Most of the plants that remain are likely to need cutting back and re-potting before being moved to a shadier spot, which should be done fairly soon. There is still a fair amount of outdoor time left, but it helps to get them used to low light before they must go indoors.
* It takes at least 6 weeks – often more – for a baby winter squash to reach full size and ripen thoroughly , so before long it will be time to tip-prune the vines and remove new fruits and flowers. Plants that can put all their energy into just 4 or 5 large fruits are the ones that produce great squash. Just count back from your expected first frost date to find the optimum pruning time. The vine tips and baby squash are sometimes tasty, sometimes quite bitter. Try sautéing a sample in butter or olive oil before putting all that (potentially) high-end vegetable material on the compost heap.
* If you have been feeding roses, don’t forget to stop. Succulent young growth needs plenty of time to toughen up before cold weather, and you don’t want to encourage the plants to keep making more of it.
Once the weather turns warm in earnest, it’s so wonderful to be outdoors – and there’s so much to do in the garden – it’s easy to neglect the greenery that got you through the winter. Not fair. Tropical plants long for fresh air too, they just need to be introduced to it gradually. Set them outside in shade for a few more hours each day until the weather is warm and they can take partial sun. Protect them from wind, which can do as much damage as frost. Repot if they are overcrowded; cut back lanky stems; give the leaves a gentle shower. Let them know you care for a couple of weeks now and then you can totally neglect them until the end of the summer.