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Putting the garden to bed: Q and A

Time to close up shop in this year's vegetable patch.
Want to enjoy a glorious fall display of mums and pumpkins? Bring them inside on frosty nights, advises garden expert Jim Hole. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Pumpkins and mums are on display; fall leaves are glorious on trees everywhere and frost is definitely around the corner. It's time to put the garden to bed for another year. Our gardening guru Jim Hole answers a few end-of-season questions as we rake up the yard.

Q: Should vegetables still be in the garden? When to harvest the last of it?

Hole: Pick everything that isn't frost-tolerant--cukes, tomatoes, beans, strawberries. Our average first frost is mid-September so we've gotten away with a few extra weeks this year. Then clean everything out the garden, and throw spent leafy stalks etc into the compost bin, or turn them into the soil. Underground root vegetables can stay put for awhile yet: carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions, cabbage. The underground vegetables get even sweeter when there's a bit of frost.

Q:  How long will the root vegetables last once I finally pick them?

Hole: You can store cabbage, potatoes and carrots to last through the winter. Everything should be dry (dry potatoes outside first) and then keep things in a cool, dry and dark spot--usually a cellar They'll keep for months.

Q: I see pumpkins and fall mums on people's front steps. Can these stay out in frosty weather?

Hole: No, it may look pretty but if you want to keep that scene going through October, you must bring the pumpkin and mums in when there's a frost warning. Pumpkins will turn mushy after a frost, and though the leaves and stems on mums can survive a slight frost, the flowers will wilt quickly. Best bet is to bring them into the house or garage overnight on frosty nights and then back out again. That way you'll get your autumn scene to last awhile longer.

Q: I've heard we shouldn't eat jack o lantern-type pumpkins?

Hole: The Halloween-type pumpkins on sale at the grocery store now are meant for carving. They can be eaten but they're not the best. You want to find smaller pie pumpkins meant for baking and turning into pies. But you can scoop out the seeds of the big pumpkins, roast and eat them. They're delicious. Just wash off seeds, toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and roast for about half hour at 350 degrees.

Q: Should we wrap the cedars in our yard? Prepare any trees for winter?

Hole: I never wrap my cedars, though some people always do. I haven't found there's any gain with doing so. It's better to continue to water once a week--all trees and evergreens--until the ground is frozen. But for fruit trees (apple, pear) you should put protective cages or wraps around the base of those trees, to protect from rabbits, voles etc that will chew the bark and could kill the tree.

Q: Some people say to rake up all the leaves; others say it's better to leave them for a healthy lawn. What's best?

Hole: It's human nature to want to clean everything up; to have a spotless yard. And though you don't want huge clumps of dead leaves on the lawn through the winter (where voles can take shelter), it's perfectly fine to leave spent perennials and their foliage through winter, and to have some leaves on the lawn. You'll do a good spring cleaning and remove all that debris after it has offered a bit of protection from harsh winter conditions.