Tidewater Gardening November 2012

Autumn Leaves

by

K. Marc Teffeau

A major gardening effort in November is gathering up all of the fallen autumn leaves. Baby boomers like me remember the childhood ritual of raking up the leaves in a pile a jumping into them.
Another common practice was to rake up the leaves into a pile and burn them. Like the smell in the winter air when a woodstove is burning, the same sensation occurred with the burning leaves. The smell of burning leaves, drinking apple cider and eating homemade donuts are good fall memories. Most municipalities now prohibit burning of leaves because of air pollution concerns, so we have to seek a more environmentally sensitive use of the leaves. The preferred practice is composting them either on a home or commercial scale.
It is important that the leaves be removed from lawn areas. Leaving them will smother the grass and create an environment where certain leaf diseases may grow. Using a mulching lawn mower is a good choice because it will chop up the leaves and leave them in place returning nutrients to the soil.
Use a leaf vacuum or blower to remove leaves along your house foundation. Removing leaves helps eliminate hiding places for pests and rodents that can gain entry to your home. Leave a small amount of leaves beneath shrubs to provide vital winter cover for beneficial insects.
If you have a water feature in your yard, keep it covered with a net until gusty fall winds have settled down and leaves aren’t blowing around. Then it will be easier to clean out.
Leaves should also be raked out of the flower bed and removed. Before raking through the herbaceous perennials, such as lilies and iris, cut the plant stems and leaves off and remove them. Make sure to leave 2-3 inches of the plant’s stem to help protect fresh shoots from animal damage as they first emerge in the spring. It’s also a helpful reminder of where plants are in the yard before they start to sprout. Avoid pulling the stems or leaves up because that produces holes in the crown of the plant that can lead to rot problems.
Consider leaving some perennials like coneflower, black-eyed Susan and tall sedums standing. They add interest to the winter garden, both by their structure and by attracting birds to their seed heads. Ornamental grasses should be left standing to protect their crown from a harsh winter. Pull stakes and plant supports. Store where they’ll freeze to help destroy overwintering pests and diseases.
Besides raking leaves, a general clean-up is in order. Clean up debris left over from the summer and start composting grass clippings, leaves and other organic matter now. Any plastic or trash from this year’s garden should be removed now before it freezes to the ground or is covered by an early snowfall.
The severity of many disease and insect problems next year can be reduced by good sanitation now. Leftover weeds and plant debris can harbor disease spores and insect eggs that will hatch next spring and invade the garden if not removed.
When chrysanthemums are through flowering, remove the stalks to within a few inches of the ground. This will help root development and make them send out vigorous sprouts in the spring. Some may be lifted and heeled into the coldframe. Plants for potting can be propagated from the side sprouts which will develop next spring.
November is the time to put your vegetable garden “to bed” for the winter. Cut the tops off your asparagus plants and add a winter dressing of aged manure to the bed. For your strawberry plantings, cover them two inches deep with hay or straw after the first or second hard frost.
If you grow brambles like raspberries secure their canes to protect them from wind whipping during the winter. Remove all mummified fruit from fruit trees and rake up and destroy those on the ground. Also, rake and dispose of apple and cherry leaves. Good sanitation practices reduce re-infestation of insects and diseases during next year’s growing season.
It’s not too late to plant spring bulbs in the landscape. It is important that the bulbs be planted while the soil is still warm, in order to promote good root growth. A large root system is essential for the absorption of water and nutrients necessary for the production of flowers and leaves.
If you still intend to plant bulbs, it will be necessary for you to mulch the soil heavily in order to conserve as much soil heat as possible. The application of three to four inches of leaves, pine needles, straw, or compost over the planting of bulbs will insulate the soil from the cold.
When planting bulbs, make certain that they are planted deep enough in the soil. Large bulbs should be planted five to six inches or deeper while small bulbs should be planted three to four inches deep.
Many gardeners complain about the decline in flowering of tulip and daffodil beds over time. This is the result of the bulbs being planted too close to the soil surface. As a result, energy is devoted to bulb production rather than flower production, so flowers get smaller and smaller. In a few years you have to thin out the bulbs and replant. If you plant them at 10 to 12 inches, you will maintain your flower display and not have to thin as often.
After finishing your last lawn mowing of the year, make sure that the mower is properly stored. Run it until it is out of fuel. Old gas can turn to varnish, and severely damage the engine.
Clean power tools of all plant material and dirt. Replace worn spark plugs, oil all necessary parts, and sharpen blades. Store all tools in their proper place indoors, never outdoors where they will rust over the winter.
Clean and fix all hand tools. Repaint handles or identification marks that have faded over the summer and sharpen all blades and remove any rust. For rakes, shovels and the like also clean and oil them for winter storage. Place some sand and some oil in a large bucket, and then slide your garden tools in and out of the sand. This will do an excellent job of cleaning them, as well as applying a light coat of oil to prevent rusting.
This is also a good month to restock any tools that have seen better days. Check your local hardware store for any gardening tool sales while the prices are lower.
If you have a hand or small power sprayer, rinse it out and clean it up before putting it in winter storage. Add water and several drops of detergent to fill the spray tank 1/10 full. Shake the tank and spray the water over a driveway, or over the plants where the chemical was applied. Caution: rinsing will not remove herbicides from sprayers. A separate sprayer must be used to apply herbicides to prevent the residue from killing plants when insecticides or fungicides are sprayed with the same sprayer. This is especially true when using phenoxy or 2, 4 -D types of herbicides.
Any leftover pesticides should be stored in a freeze-proof location away from food and out of the reach of children. If a pesticide is in a paper container, put the whole package in a plastic container and seal it. Be sure that all bottles and cans are tightly sealed and well labeled. Store liquid pesticides where temperatures will not go below 40°. Too low a temperature may result in a breakdown of the chemical.
If the liquid should freeze, there is the danger of the glass container breaking and spilling the chemical in the storage area. The best answer to the question of how to store pesticides for the winter is to not have any left over to store. Buy and use only what you need for the growing season. Pesticides may cost more in smaller quantities but this helps you to avoid having to store left over quantities for the winter.
By November you should have moved any houseplants that you had outside back in the house. Inspect them any possible insect or mite infestations and treat accordingly.
Winter heating dries the air out in your home considerably. Help your houseplants survive by misting them or placing the pots on a pebble filled tray of water to ensure adequate humidity and moisture.
Pot up some spring flowering bulbs for indoor color during the winter. Store the pots in a cool, dark place, until new growth emerges from the soil, and then move them to a bright window.
Happy Gardening!