In the Garden:
Fall is garden cleanup time. Remove tangled vines from trellises and store them for winter.
The first hard frosts have hit, so it's time for those garden maintenance chores. Cleaning up the garden this fall may not be the most exciting project, but it will make the garden both more pleasant to look at this winter and more fun to work in and healthier when spring comes. The main areas to focus on are the vegetable garden, the annuals, and the fallen leaves.
There's nothing sadder looking than the post-frost vegetable garden, with its tangle of brown vines, fallen-over tomato cages, and rangy weeds (at least my garden has weeds, maybe yours doesn't). But beyond appearance, stalks and stems can harbor insect and disease pests. Disposing of them now means you'll have fewer battles to fight next summer.
Most garden refuse gets composted, but if you've had particularly bad infestations of pests, then put plant matter into the trash. The assorted garden cages, trellises, ropes, and stakes go into the tool shed. I always try to make notes of what growing techniques worked, what didn't, and what I need to purchase or make for next year.
Most of the annual flowers and plants also go into the compost. I've found that the Victoria sage, dusty miller, and ageratum often survive the winter, being marginally hardy in my area. They'll die back to the ground but sometimes come out again in the spring. It's certainly worth a try, so I leave them in place.
Depending on my mood and the area of the garden, I'll either let the self-sowers (annuals that drop seed and naturally sprout and grow next spring) stay in place or gather them and distribute the seed where I want them. Love-in-a-mist, spider flower, jimson lily, four-o'-clock, and annual poppy are some of my favorite self-sowers. The foxglove seed has already been gathered and planted.
Not everyone agrees with me, but I tend to leave a lot of the perennials "as is" until spring. For one thing, it gives some height and texture to the garden during the winter. For another, I think the tops give some protection to the plants. Come early next spring, I'll cut them back to the ground.
A New Rake on Leaves
Leaves, leaves, and more leaves. I sure love all our trees and shrubs, but sometimes I wish a gale-force wind would just whisk them away sometime in the night. Short of that, I have several favorite tools to deal with them. One is an adjustable metal-tined rake. I can adjust the tine width by sliding a lever up and down the handle. Narrowing it allows me to get in among closely placed shrubs. The steel tines have proved much more indestructible than the old-fashioned bamboo or plastic tines.
Blowing Leaves Away
A leaf blower-shredder is another indispensable tool for me. I can collect the leaves easily, then shred them into mulch or a compost pile addition. Either way, both the environment and I win.
I wrote a magazine article on hand-held blower-shredders this summer, so I've tried a number of different models. If you have a small yard, an electric model is handy. For larger yards, a gas-powered model is a better choice. In choosing one, consider weight and the ease of switching between blowing and shredding. Some models have attachments for cleaning out gutters.
My luxury item for garden cleanup is a chipper-shredder. It's a 6-horsepower model that can shred large quantities of leaves quickly, plus chip up to a 3-inch limb. There are both smaller and larger models available, as well as both gas and electric. Like the blower-shredders, these offer a win-win situation for you and your garden.
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