November Chore List: Get the Rakes Out

It's time for some serious fall clean-up, and I'm betting you could use a little help from your friends. 

Yesterday, BB Barns landscape staff along with the Speaking of Gardening Symposium group gathered in a garden (where else?) for a fall clean-up day, part of a volunteer effort to help a friend. I am always astonished at how quickly garden work goes when it isn't just me out there. Gardening, in my opinion, should be a community event. (Shameless plug for Speaking of Gardening: It is a community event for gardeners, every year in August. Never heard of it? Click here.)  

So, here's your first task: Grab a bunch of friends, garden tools, tarps, and fixings for lunch (or dinner) and head to the garden. It's true what they say: Many hands make light work. Plus, it's just more fun. 

Now, on to the chores, people.

Leaves: Don't give 'em away

First chore: Grab a rake. Rake matted leaves off the lawn to avoid killing grass or use a mulching lawn mower (highly recommended). Rake out beds and borders where leaves are piled high (great mole/vole hiding place) but don't rake them to the curb for the city to pick up and haul off to landfills. Shred 'em, mulch 'em, or compost 'em because they're garden gold. Pound for pound they have twice the nutrient content of manure. They're organic roughage, aerating the soil for better drainage, root growth and gas exchange, and they're food for beneficial microbes. Below are suggestions for what-to-do with your leaves, but before you start raking, check out the 12 Rules of Raking, from Mother Earth News.

  • Create a leaf only compost pile. When the leaves break down, add the organic result to the garden as leaf mold. Shredding the leaves will quicken the breakdown process. If you don't have room for piles of leaves, put them in big, plastic bags, and poke holes in the bags, saving them for future use. Leaf mold holds up to 500% its weight in water (hello drought) and helps cool roots and foliage, not to mention absorbs rainwater runoff. Pretty good for something most home gardeners throw away.
  • Shred them and apply as mulch to beds, around shrubs and over tender perennials for insulation this fall. 
  • Start a compost pile and add them as the "browns." Add perennial plant waste and grass clippings for your "greens."

This video shows how to make leaf mold. Be sure to watch. 

Compost: Start A Compost Pile

Second chore: Start a compost pile. Click here to learn how: Rodale's The Easiest Way to Composting

Autumn's harvest is more than the last of the fruits and veggies. It's leaves, vegetable plants, summer's annuals, perennial cut-back material, and weeds. We're cleaning up with an eye toward reducing next year's pest and disease issues, but all this plant debris is food for the compost pile. Determine to create a compost pile this year (the bin isn't necessary unless you're adding food scraps and live in city limits), and use the compost next year on garden beds. 

Jason Hanna, Director of Customer Services in our landscape division, edging a sidewalk. If you can get your friends to help, many hands make light work!

Soil Prep

Third chore: Got drainage problems? Now is a time to fix that, when summer chores aren't demanding your attention or ripping through the perennial beds when everything is in bloom just isn't an option. For drainage, you need a professional or it's possible solving your drainage issues creates drainage problems for your neighbor. Check out Jason Hanna's blog,  "Protecting Your Investment : Drainage Solutions." Click here. 

If you have wet spots, do soil prep now to get a jump on spring. Add permatill (also good for voles) and soil enhancer.  We carry Daddy Pete's Soil Enhancer, which helps break up clay and loosen the soil. Use it for soil amendment or mulching. Add it to that spot where you want a perennial bed, but it doesn't percolate well.

As you're cleaning out the vegetable garden, add a layer of compost and shredded leaves, turning the leaves into the soil as you go. Improving the soil is the number one job for gardeners. 

And, don't forget, now is the time for a soil test. Click here for information.

Brendan McPeak, working hard on a volunteer day in the garden, hauling rocks the rest of us were too wimpy to handle. 

Weed

Fourth and Forever chore: Pull the weeds. Weeding and mowing stay on the list until they quit growing. With these temperatures, both are still growing.  Don't be discouraged. Remember,  you're weeding for next year. You want to eliminate the chance of weeds going to seed and roaring back into the garden come spring.

Bulbs 

Fifth and absolute must chore: Plant bulbs. It may feel like June days, but don't let that fool you. Plant your bulbs now. If you don't have garden space but love those harbingers of spring, plant them in containers. Layer containers with different types of bulbs for extended enjoyment. Here's the how-to on bulbs in containers and layering bulbs in containers (or lasagna gardening).

Annie Higgins, part of Speaking of Gardening, pulling bittersweet out of a 'Midnight Fire' redtwig dogwood, clearing out garden beds. 

Cut Back Perennials

Last gotta-do chore: Cut back perennials. Perennials are loosely defined as those herbaceous, flowering plans that return year to year. Herbaceous meaning the root lives through the winter, but the plant structure does not. The dead plant material of perennials should be cut back and disposed of (maybe in your new compost bin). Even if the leaves are still green, it's late enough in the season that cutting them back is fine. 

Pruning

Don't have to do this one: If the boxwoods are growing into the sidewalk, feel free to trim them back and shape up a little, but otherwise, leave serious pruning for late winter/early spring. This late in the season, you don't want to promote new growth that doesn't have time to harden off. So, this is one chore you can skip if you prefer.  

Cinthia Milner is the garden coach and blog writer.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.