Stalk the weather forecaster. Just in case the weather ever again becomes predictable, we’re due for a frost somewhere around Halloween. Be prepared to run out and cover tomatoes and peppers with blankets or plastic if the temperature goes below 35 degrees. Last year, we did this and managed to keep the plants alive long enough to have tomatoes into December.
Ready the figs. Everybody has a different plan according to nationality, but because figs originally came to us from the Mediterranean, we’re going to start with the Italian viewpoint: 1. Trim back the whole thing to about six feet, and gather all the branches together, wrap in a tarp, burlap, or an old blanket (not plastic!) and stuff the inside with leaves. Some people even put a trash can or bucket over the top to keep the leaves dry—unattractive, but effective. Or bend the whole assembly over, without the tarps, and bury it under eight inches of mulch. Take all this off — tarps, mulch, etc. — after St. Patrick’s Day (which even Italians celebrate in Philly).
Mow the lawn one last time. Use the lowest setting for that job-interview crew-cut kind of closeness. Rake up the leavings and put them in the compost. And unless you plan to mow the fallen, dried leaves to use as mulch in flower beds, schedule a time to take the mower in for sharpening, maintenance, and winterizing so you can hit the ground running in the spring.
Plant some more bulbs. You can keep doing this until New Year’s Eve, or when the ground freezes solid, whichever comes first. If you buy them off the discount rack, make sure they are firm and fat. Wrinkly ones may cost half as much but are only a quarter as good.
Sally McCabe is associate director of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phsonline.org) and a co-owner of Cobblestone Krautery (www.cobblestonekrautery.com).