Gardener's Grapevine 2012.10.24

Written by David Green.

I love fall, even though the harvesting and dry leaves make my allergies go nuts. The trees and fields being harvested are so beautiful. The downside to such beauty is the barren cold winter months. Winter is so very necessary to our plants in this part of the country. The earth and trees need down time to sleep, renew and regroup.

With our warm winter and early summer last year the trees took a lot of stress. They lost a lot of their fruit due to the freakish weather. Some fruit trees did very well while others had next to nothing or lost most of their fruit early. Apparently, the giant oak tree in front of the Johnson’s next door did not suffer at all. That tree has dropped bushels of acorns. I can hear them pop on the driveway when someone drives over them. This is not so great for Mary as she has to clean them up from everywhere, but the squirrels are in heaven storing the acorns for winter.

Speaking of squirrels, the little buggers are so funny. I cleaned up some dead flowers that had gone to seed and prior to cutting the dead stems and disposing of them, I cut the dried seed heads off and left them in the flower beds. Later, I looked out the window to see squirrels running across the yard with the whole seed head that I had cut off. That had to be a very painful job to carry it up a tree as the coneflower seed heads are like thistles, very pokey.

What do you do with your seeds on the dead plants? Usually I let the dead stalks stay until spring so the birds can eat them when the snow is covering everything else. The only reason I cut the ones I did, is because when I’m in a cleaning up mood I tend to get carried away.

Speaking of cleaning up, don’t be in a huge hurry to clean everything out of your perennial beds. Some plants need a nice cover of leaves and dead vegetation to protect against the cold winter weather. My great grandmother Hila used to have me cover her roses with leaves every fall so they could act as insulation.

Other plants like the iris or hosta do not need such protection. If you are cleaning up your landscaping go ahead and trim the hostas since they have all frosted now and are not reaping any benefit from their leaves any longer.  While you are cleaning up, remember to take a note pad and write down which hostas need to be split in the spring. It is much easier to do the splitting if you write it down in the fall. By the time the hostas are full open, it is too difficult to split them and they will spend the rest of the summer trying to round themselves out again. They like to be round and will put a lot of effort into it.

By splitting the hostas while the leaves are still tightly rolled and small, they are a lot easier to handle. It takes very little for them to reround their shape as you will be splitting them while they are still partially dormant. I have a very grubby notebook in my gardening shed, but each spring it is a job I’m glad I do each fall.

In addition to cleaning up the beds, don’t forget the lawn. If you use chemicals it is time to apply winterizer. I also like to aerate in the fall; it gives the grass somewhere to stretch its roots in the spring.

While it is a lot of work to get everything cleaned up for winter you will be glad you made the effort. When the bleak winter winds blow, you will look out onto a tidy sleeping landscape. Besides, it gives our city workers job security cleaning up those giant piles of yard waste. They do such a great job of keeping everything clean and tidy, and they never complain. Thanks to our great city workers.

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