Stalk the weather forecaster. We’re due for a frost somewhere in the next two weeks. Be ready to run out and cover tomatoes and peppers with blankets or plastic if temps drop below 35 degrees; some years we’ve managed to keep the plants alive long enough to have tomatoes into December. If frost triumphs, clean out the dead veggie plants and throw down some last-minute cover crop seeds — hairy vetch and winter rye are about the only ones you can plant this late. Otherwise, cover the empty beds with mulch or shredded leaves.
Bring in the stragglers. Check Plant Camp and make sure you didn’t miss anyone. Even the Christmas cactus can come in now, if it is starting to show little flower buds on the ends of the branches; if it’s not, leave it out until the very last minute because it’s the cool temps that induce them to form. Check things that have already come in for critters and major maladjustments.
Leave some leaves. The American Horticultural Society recommends that we only rake up leaves where they make paths dangerous or where they will smother the lawn (as though that’s a bad thing). Otherwise they serve as a natural mulch and provide nutrients for plants.
Hang in there. Visit your garden often, talk to other gardeners, read a lot, and keep notes on what worked and what didn’t, so you won’t have to reinvent the wheel next year. Until then, see you next year.
Sally McCabe is associate director of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phsonline.org) and winner of the AHS Great American Gardener Jane L. Taylor award.