In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
October, 2005
Regional Report

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Autumn leaves and grass clippings: perfect combo for the compost pile.

Lingering Ways

Fall cleanup is an interesting time in the garden. It allows us to examine our plantings and evaluate their performance during the growing season just past. Frosted annuals are looking sad, but they do make great fodder for the compost pile. As we tidy up, we gather ample gleanings for the compost pile among the spent annuals and veggies, the fallen autumn leaves, the frosted stems and foliage of perennials, the last of the lawn clippings. Be sure to save these free, natural materials to enrich your garden next season. What better way to celebrate a good season than by recycling the energy!

Taking Stock
While tidying up, it's natural to want to sum up the year's results. I especially like to do this while basking in the precious rays of a sunny fall afternoon, dragging my lawn chair over to a favorite sheltered nook with a good view out over the yard. We really should take full advantage of this annual opportunity to reflect and plan ahead for next year.

This evaluation can include correcting past mistakes as well as deciding what to add to the landscape. It's all colorfully fresh in our minds, both the highlights and the thorny bits. We might have practical needs, such as a larger patio or deck space for entertaining; along with aesthetic needs, such as concealing an ugly view. Or we may simply have a desire to add a new garden feature, such as a rose bed; more late-summer color in the flower garden or better fall color in the shrub bed. Or we may want to reduce our maintenance time by expanding areas of ground cover and planting colorful flowering shrubs rather than annual flowers. There are endless opportunities for the year ahead!

It's a good time to take a few photos to document our successes and failures, and jot down those all important "notes to self" so we remember our plans next spring when we head out to the plant shop.

Taking Measurements
It's also a good time to take any measurements you will need for upcoming projects, especially if you like to peruse the plant catalogs and place orders during the winter months. This measuring is a pleasant task and time well spent. What better excuse to be outdoors on a glorious fall day, calmly measuring, taking notes, and chewing on the end of a pencil while lost in serious thought, pondering the options. Trust me, this beats waiting until March when you are in a hurry and raring to start your project but every weekend is windy and rainy, and it's too cold and raw to hold a pencil in your bare hand, and there is nothing out there anyway but an uninspiring sea of mud!

I really do encourage you to do some planning ahead. There is an odd phenomenon that occurs among gardeners, but I have seen it happen over and over again: outdoor spaces tend to shrink or swell in our minds depending on which task is at hand. If selecting a new tree, we often err by planting a tree that matures to a size that will dwarf the house, crowd up through the power lines, and dangle over the neighbor's driveway. Think about it: how many "overgrown" blue spruces and maple trees have you seen crowding front yards and rubbing power lines in older neighborhoods?

But we err on the other end of the scale, too. When we plan for a new patio, we use a short stick and fail to allow space for all of the activity that will go on there. We seem to reach out and live larger when we are outdoors. So while an indoor dining area may be adequate at 9 by 11 feet, that's way too small for a patio or deck. And shouldn't a front walk be wide enough for two people to walk side by side?

Test drive your plans by using a measuring tape and marking out the area with a garden hose or an improvised arrangement of lawn furniture. Then make a quick, simple outline sketch map and save it -- along with a few selected photos of the area in question -- to take with you when you shop for materials or supplies. And if your mind's eye has a line of, say, daylilies all along the back fence, measure the length of the fence to see how many mature-sized plants you really need. There is nothing quite so awful as being just two plants short when you need a matched set, and there is nothing quite so aggravating as having a dozen leftovers and nowhere to put them! So be nice to yourself and do a little measuring.

Along the same line of reasoning, you could measure your lawn area (or check your plot plan) so you know how many square feet you have and can purchase lime or fertilizer accordingly. Consider running some basic soil tests if you haven't done so recently. Your County Extension Service can help you with the tests and interpreting the results to optimize your lawn care routine. It's never good for the grass to overfertilize, it's needlessly expensive to overdo it, and runoff contaminated with excess nutrients contributes to water pollution, too. Since the only way to know for sure is to work from the test results, you might as well pass a little more of this golden end-of-the-season outdoor time with a modicum of industry and dig your soil samples, too. As an added bonus, you'll get the results back quicker than you could next spring when the labs are busier.

Without too much thought, I'm sure you can find a few more good solid excuses to come out and linger with me in the garden just a little bit longer.


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