2006-11-09 / About Town

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

Fall. It's the time of year when we finally realize that

summer has come and gone, that winter is fast approaching, and that our gardens need winterizing just like our boats and deck furniture. There's a lot to do and it needs to be done right now. The most major chore is to remove dead leaves from your lawn and yard. There's no need to go bananas and get every last leaf, but leaving leaves to clump up in odd corners is a sure way to kill off the grass under them. Having said that, use the leaves to mulch around tender plants that you are trying to overwinter, or pile all your leaves in a humungous pile and leave them to rot. In about three or four years the leaves will have become leaf mold that can be used as a component of potting soil or applied to your garden. I find that leaves rot faster if they are picked up with the lawn mower along with untreated grass clippings. The nitrogen in the grass clippings helps the highcarbon leaves to rot.

In the vegetable garden

If you grow garlic, it should be in the ground by now. Mulch it with four to six inches of shredded leaves and leave for the winter. If you have spinach or parsley in your garden cut the leaves you want from them now and leave the roots intact. Next spring the plants will resprout to give you some early vegetables before they go to seed. Otherwise, all that is left to do in the garden is to clean up the dead plants. If you leave the plants to overwinter they can harbor insects that hatch out in spring and devour next season's crops before they can get going. I like to add everything to the compost heap except for tomatoes. Some tomatoes can harbor diseases and the entire plant should be discarded. Put them in a trash bag and pass them along to Island Rubbish or burn them.

In the flower garden

This time of year is a good time to lift and divide perennials. You can also clean out flowerbeds so that dead and dying plants don't shed seeds that sprout next year and turn your carefully laid out beds into a mess. Having said that, I like to leave many seed heads as food for the birds during winter. You might also like to bring a few bulbs indoors for forcing during the long winter ahead. Many of the bulbs, (daffodils, paperwhites, narcissus, and some tulips) can easily be forced. If you have roses, you can trim them back now, but don't cut grafted roses back too far. If you do, you will force growth from below the graft and kill off the rose. I prefer to wait until spring to trim roses so that I can see what the frost has killed and prune it out.

Your lawn

As mentioned above just keep leaves off it. Growth has slowed and I find that a final mowing just after Thanksgiving gets most of the leaves and cleans everything up nicely. As soon as that mowing is done, the lawnmower goes into the shop for its annual maintenance.

Soft fruit

Divide crowns of rhubarb and replant into heavily composted or well-manured soil. If you have a spare crown, set it in a bucket (with manure and soil and leave outside until the end of January, then move it into a warm spot and force the rhubarb for some early stems. Cut out last year's raspberry canes and shred or discard. them. Clean up around black and red currants. I like to trim out old growth at this time to prepare the plants for next year. Mulch around soft fruit to help protect the roots. You might also want to put a mesh over them to protect your plants against deer.

Fruit trees

I like to prune them back as soon as the leaves have dropped, but this chore can be done at any time over the winter. If we get a day over 50 degrees you might want to spray with dormant oil to kill off insects hiding in the bark and nooks of the tree. That will set your trees up for next season nicely.

Taking care of your garden now helps to set it up for next season and, hopefully, gives you a little less work in spring, when there's never enough time to get everything done.

Have fun and remember to sing a happy song while you work.

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