Autumn brings leaves and chores for the gardener

By Linda Stephens-Urbaniak

Autumn! The turning leaves, the sight of fall flowers, the falling leaves, the crispness of the air, raking leaves, the caramel-like smell of the leaves -- all those leaves! What to do with them? The answer is compost. Like magic, leaves turn into that wonderful additive to any garden, leaf mold, and when added to the green trimmings of fall cleanup, the compost can be ready in as little as two to three weeks.

This also is the time to choose and plant bulbs. They should be in the ground by the end of November for maximum display next spring. If your daffodils have appeared smaller in the last year or two, this is the time to lift (dig them up) and divide them. Some daffodils create large clumps that, if divided, will increase in vigor and display. Adding a swath of crocus or scilla can bring exciting spring color even in shaded areas, and the relatively new ``pink'' daffodils definitely do better in shade.

Anytime after the middle of November through the beginning of March is good to tackle pruning. If you've never tried your hand at it, take time to study the plant. Don't try to force it into the shape you want. Let it take the shape it was meant to be. If you really have no idea where to begin, Cass Turnbull's ``Guide to Pruning'' is a great resource.

Most perennials start to die down this month. Some, like hostas, form soggy messes. Before they become a smorgasbord for snails and slugs, cut the leaves back to the ground and, if they are not diseased, onto the compost pile they go. Others like echinacea or sedum may have seed heads that will welcome birds into your garden during the months ahead. If the seed heads are unattractive to you, cut them and place them upright in hedges or bushes where they will still feed the birds, but be out of sight. Many perennials will die back, but leave rosettes close to the ground so that they will remain evergreen. Be sure not to cut back the rosettes.

Annuals are not programmed to last more than a year, so you don't need to try and save those impatiens or that sunflower. To tidy up the garden, cut them out. Some plants we think of as annuals, such as petunias or snapdragons, are actually tender perennials, but most will not survive the winter. If they have powdery mildew (it looks like the plant has been dusted with gray baby powder) or rust (it looks like the plant has rusted, usually on the underside of the leaves) don't put them into your home compost.

If you have had houseplants outside, start bringing them in one or two at a time. Be sure to carefully examine each one for pests, including down in the stems and under the leaves. It is important to get them all in before nighttime temperatures fall below 45 degrees. To save your tuberous begonia tubers for next year, dig them up, remove all foliage, and let them dry out for a few days before placing them in perlite for the winter.

Local gardeners can aid hurricane victims

Vegetable gardeners can help out the victims of the hurricanes that have devastated the southern part of the United States. Because of the disasters, there is a great need for food for those people -- so local food banks will need even more this year. If you have extra produce, call the food banks or local soup kitchens and donate what you can spare. And for those who don't grow vegetables, how about donating the price of a plant?

- Linda Stephens-Urbaniak

Contact Linda at lindagarden She welcomes questions and will respond to as many as possible.

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