| B. Rosie Lerner
Putting the Garden To Bed
While gardeners may still have several more weeks to
enjoy what's left of the growing season, it will soon be time to put our
gardens to bed for winter.
Flowers and vegetables whose foliage has begun to brown and shrivel should
generally be removed before winter. Removing the spent foliage is an excellent
way to reduce the chance for fungi and insect pests to over winter.
Herbaceous perennials should be cut back to just above the crown of the
plant, the place where the stems join the roots. Annual plants should
be completely removed from the garden. Plant refuse can be composted to
recycle into organic matter to add to the garden soil next year.
Obviously, some plants, such as ornamental grasses, provide winter interest
in their dried state. In areas where the soil is prone to erosion by wind
or water, such as on a slope, leaving the dead stems can help hold soil
in place. In these cases, plants can be left until later winter or early
spring. Make sure to cut back the dead stems before the new foliage comes
Pruning of trees and shrubs is generally best left until late winter
or spring for most plants. Pruning in fall will leave the cut stems vulnerable
to further dieback at the cuts, and, in some years, may encourage buds
to sprout during mild weather. Dead or damaged limbs can be removed any
Clean up of fallen tree leaves may be needed, especially around mature,
large-leaved trees, such as maple, oak and sycamore. But autumn leaves
can easily be turned into valuable, soil-enhancing organic matter.
Dry leaves can be plowed or tilled under in the vegetable or annual flower
beds, in fall, to provide a source of organic matter. Shredding the leaves
first will speed the breakdown, so that the leaves will not be visible
by spring. Be sure to mix the leaves into the soil, rather than leaving
them on top through the winter, to avoid keeping the soil too cold and
wet to work in the spring.
Tree leaves can be recycled directly on the lawn. Use your power mower
or shredder/vacuum to break dry leaves up into smaller pieces. A mulching
blade on the mower will speed this process, but even a standard blade
will do an adequate job. For large leaves like maple and sycamore, it
may take several passes to get a finely shredded product. Once the leaves
are pulverized, they will break down quickly. A fall application of nitrogen
fertilizer (about 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet) will help
speed decomposition of the leaves and also will benefit the grass plants.
Fall leaves also make great composting ingredients, especially when mixed
with green trimmings and grass clippings. Again, the smaller the pieces,
the faster they'll break down, so shred or chop dry leaves before adding
them to the compost pile. If you don't have green trimmings or grass clippings,
add a source of nitrogen to the leaves, such as commercial fertilizer
or dry cow, horse, sheep or poultry manure.
Last, but not least, shredded leaves can be used as a winter mulch to
protect tender perennials through the coming harsh weather. Shredding
the leaves will help prevent them from packing down as they get wet and
smothering the plants that they are supposed to protect. To provide winter
protection, apply a 3-6 inch layer of shredded leaves over the top of
tender perennials after several hard freezes. The goal of winter mulch
is to keep plants dormant through the winter, so it must be applied after
the ground is cold and plants are fully dormant. The timing of application
will vary from year to year with the weather, but generally will be appropriate
sometime between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.