It's Autumn: Reconnect with Our Earth Again

Cooler temperatures and lots of sunshine are invigorating. It's likely for most of us that a frost or two has touched our gardens. This is nature's signal to shift gears. Invigorated, we might consider a number of pleasant things to do around the home. What follows is a suggestion box of hints, tips, and chores, which are healthy, fun, challenging and help us renew our connection with the earth and our inner spirit. Many of these are personally satisfying.

Harvest Mulch: A favorite for me is harvesting pine needles (my favorite mulch), making sure they are dry and then stored dry until I need them. I just look at what I accumulate with such delight.

Make Beds: That same sense of accomplishment comes after putting in a new or another raised bed. It's easy and so rewarding. It just keeps giving and giving.

Weed Out Weeds: If you are bothered by broadleaf weeds (plantains, dandelions, ground ivy, etc.) in lawn areas, there is no better time to tackle them. Grass is enjoying its favorite time to grow and spread vigorously. Spaces left by dead weeds will quickly fill in. The methods of eradication are mechanical, chemical, and cultural.

Mechanical involves physical effort and a tool. It's organic and healthy. Chemical employs a wipe or squirt with Kleenup or similar glyphosate based herbicide. A variety of cultural modifications to favor the grass in the fierce competition for water, nutrients and sunlight include adjusting soil pH to 6.5, learning proper fertilization and optimum times for application, and mowing high and often with clean sharp cutting blades.

Buy Stuff: A really fun thing to do is spend some money, no? Garden centers are many people's favorite places to visit now, because the fall sales coincide with the best time to plant. Once new plants are in the ground, continue to water, if rainfall isn't in the range of at least 1" to 2" per week, all newly planted perennials, shrubs and trees until the ground is frozen. You won't regret it. And, if the ground freezes in January, respond by mulching with joy.

De-Debris: As soon as your vegetable garden has given its most for you, return the favor with a thorough cleaning by removing all plant debris. Over wintering stages of disease and insect pests have built in mechanisms that enable them to grow and reproduce next spring. It's kind of a routine task, a win-win for you and the garden. Another, you won't regret.

Embrace Bulbs: It's a great time to plant bulbs that give song to spring with their color and vitality. There are major spring flowering bulbs, and what are referred to as lesser or minor bulbs. This based mostly on their usage and size. Lily of the valley will always outshine many majors for me because of its fragrance. You choose. Satisfy more than one sense.

Grow garlic: There is clearly another sense to satisfy. Remember the "stinking rose"? Here is a wonderful opportunity awaiting us. Plant some garlic and shallots. Treat as any perennial. Irrigate if needed. Weed and mulch into next July. Harvest the scapes for stir-fry or pickling. As tops discolor to yellow, gently dig up the beautiful bulbs and enjoy them.

Get Edgy: Eleven years ago, shortly after initiating training of a new Master Gardener Class of Volunteers at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Liberty, I quickly made a nice connection with Mary F. of Livingston Manor, an original Master Gardener. Mary is blessed with a love of caring for people and the environment. I began learning as soon as I met her. I'd like to share this with you. I was not familiar with a garden edger. Mary demonstrated to the M.G. trainees and me how useful this tool could be.

If you've never seen one or used one, you might be as impressed as I was. Imagine a long pole with a half-moon shaped blade, sharpened and strong, fastened to the pole, ready to cut through the most resistant ground cover. The straight edge closest to the user is stepped on for added force. The clean, crisp edge around beds and gardens that results is aesthetically wonderful; equally important, it's horticulturally wonderful. The V shaped barrier of air stops the spread of turf grass or anything else from invading the bed. Look for this tool. Get yourself or special other one for a holiday gift. You won't regret this investment.

Prep Peripherals: Take a look around at the outdoor functional and ornamental add-ons. Lawn furniture should be examined, repaired, cleaned, maybe painted, and prepared for storage. Same for garden fences, trellises, and outdoor accessories that might be vulnerable to winter damage or deterioration. This can be wonderfully rewarding on a sunny fall day, and you will reap the rewards again the following spring.

Outwit Critters: Prepare to protect vulnerable plants from damage inflicted by deer, rabbits, voles, snow and ice, and sunscald. Furring strips, burlap, hardware cloth, tree wrap, and white latex paint might be purchased while you're out one day, and you'll be ready to guard your favorites.

Collect Clippings: I know we don't often think about it, but the days have been getting shorter since June 22nd. Most plants have fulfilled most of their photosynthetic duty for the year with few exceptions, and are preparing for the coming dormancy. Lawns are an exception, and these should continue to be cut as long as they continue to grow, often into December.

Saving the clippings and mixing with collected fallen leaves in a ratio of two to one, respectively, will be a shot of vitamins for any compost. A sprinkle of that compost on the lawn areas in early spring is a tonic of beneficial microorganisms that promotes health and vigor. Another win-win practice.

Plan Plantings: Autumn is a favorite time of year. Sit back and enjoy the product of your efforts. Create a wish list of new plants you'd like to add, or maybe some new tools. When the snow is falling and the catalogs are arriving, you'll be focused and know you've covered a lot of ground toward making 2004 personally very rewarding.

There are many other horticultural steps you can take, but I'll save them for my next column. Enjoy the fall asters, the colorful foliage, the crisp air, and the first full taste of autumn.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on October 8, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.