It’s been more like spring temperatures than fall but with this weekend’s cooler weather, look for more color and ergo more leaves to rake. The good news? Who doesn’t want to be outdoors on days like this? Fall finally showed up in Western North Carolina, and color popped overnight. Blue skies, brilliant red and yellow leaves, and crisp weather. Perfect days for garden clean-up.
Let’s get started.
Leaves: Don’t give them away
Grab a rake. Rake matted leaves off the lawn to avoid killing grass. 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 them, mulch them, or compost them 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 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, absorbs rainwater runoff. Pretty great 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 it.
Compost: Start A Compost Pile
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 closed bin isn’t necessary unless you’re adding food scraps and live in city limits), and use the compost in the spring on garden beds.
Got drainage problems? Now is a time to fix that, when summer chores aren’t demanding your attention. For drainage issues, you need a professional. Check out Jason Hanna’s, Director of Customer Services in our landscape division, blog, “Protecting Your Investment: Drainage Solutions.”
Anytime is always the best time for amending your soil, but now is an especially good time as you put the garden to bed. Read here to determine what issues your soil may have and how to correct it.
If you have wet spots, do soil prep now to get a jump on spring. Add permatill (also good for voles) and soil enhancers. We carry Daddy Pete’s Soil Enhancer, which helps break up clay and loosens 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.
Pull the weeds. Weeding and mowing stay on the list until they quit growing. With these temperatures, both are slowing down which is helpful. Remember, you’re weeding to next year. You want to eliminate the chance of weeds going to seed and roaring back into the garden come spring.
For more information on weed control, read here.
For weeds that you can actually keep, read here.
Plant bulbs. 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).
Cut Back Perennials
Cut back perennials. Perennials are those herbaceous, flowering plants that return year to year. Herbaceous means 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. Here’s the how-to on cutting back perennials.
Now you’ve made room in the garden, plant winter pansies for a bright spot of color. It’s not too late.
Dig up Summer’s Tender Bulbs/Bring in Houseplants
It’s time to dig up your dahlias, gladiolas, and tender canna lilies to store for winter. Once the leaves are blackened from frost, dig up bulbs, wash or brush off soil, and allow to dry for two weeks. Store in a basement or cellar (40-50 degrees) in woods chips or peat moss. Cannas can be tossed into bins without the use of wood chips. For more on storing bulbs, read here.
If you haven’t already, bring in the houseplants. They need time to readjust to indoor environments before you start blasting heat. Here’s the how-to for that.
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 major 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.
Leaves are dropping, and now we’re seeing our lovable neighbors more than we’d like. Fall is a good time to plant a screen (and other plants). Read here for five tried and true evergreens that work for screening.
Clean out bird feeders and birdhouses. Use soap and warm water to clean the birdfeeders and allow them to dry before using it again completely. This will help with potential diseases passed between birds.
Store those outdoor pots correctly. Here’s how.
Want to give birds habitat in your garden? Read here.
Clean, sharpen, and store tools.
Cinthia Milner is the garden coach and blog writer.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.