Homeyer: Last Garden Chores

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(HOST) Commentator Henry Homeyer will be busy this weekend with a few last minute chores in the garden.

(HOMEYER)  By now I should have my gardens put to bed for the winter.  But, as usual, I’m behind schedule. And now I feel Jack Frost breathing down my neck, so I’m working hard to finish up.

My vegetable garden is still producing a few things, including Swiss chard, kale, Brussels sprouts, celeriac and carrots. I won’t clean up their beds until Thanksgiving, or until we get a week of very cold weather.

All my frost sensitive plants have been pulled out and disposed of, including tomatoes, peppers, squash and basil. I try to pull any weeds when I clean up the garden, especially any perennial weeds and grasses. I don’t want them to get started early next spring while my vegetable seedlings are still huddled under fluorescent lights indoors. I still have a bit of work to do there.

But it’s the flower gardens that are most in need of my attention now. I need to weed and cut back this year’s flowers. I like to leave a few tall perennials that produce seeds the birds can enjoy after the snow flies. But I clean up most beds by cutting off the leaves and spent flowers. Instead of using my pruners to do that, I generally use a sharp serrated knife. With one swipe I can cut off several stems that I’d have to cut individually with pruners. And I’ve found that the leaves of some plants – hostas and bleeding hearts among others – can be cleaned up with a stiff garden rake.

Then there’s the perennial question of leaves that have fallen into flower beds. To rake or not to rake? I vote for not raking. Leaves are full of good nutrients pulled up from the soil, and they’re a good source of organic matter. They won’t break down much this winter, but will start the process. Earthworms are still hungry, and they eat leaves, recycling all the good nutrients and enriching the soil. I agree that flower beds look tidier after raking, but generally I don’t do it.

I mow the lawn a little shorter at the end of the season and suck up the grass along with the chopped leaves in my bagger. The chopped leaves are great mulch and I use them to cover up my vegetable garden. They not only add organic matter, they help to reduce erosion and prevent spring weeds from germinating.

And finally, I’m planting bulbs for spring. It’s not too late to plant, and grocery stores are putting them on sale. I like to plant 100 bulbs or more each fall. Daffodils are bullet proof – nothing will eat them. I also plant some tulips despite the fact that rodents and deer love them as much as I do. My cat patrols for rodents, and the dogs do their best to scare the deer. On a sunny fall day with a big blue sky, there is little I enjoy more than planting bulbs. And come spring, I’ll be glad I did.

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