Neighborly Garden News
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Need a plan for all those fallen leaves?
Leaves are autumn’s most abundant crop. Leaves are a rich source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Trees mine minerals from deep in the subsoil and transfer the rich minerals into their leaves. What an amazing source of free, nutrient rich organic matter! The leaves of one large tree can be worth as much as $50 worth of plant food and humus. Pound for pound, leaves contain twice the mineral content of manure. Leaves are a natural and sustainable resource that can be used to improve soil structure, boost fertility, and protect garden plants as a mulch.
1. Improve Your Soil
Mix shredded leaves right into your garden. Next spring, your soil will be teeming with earthworms and other beneficial organisms. Note: If you add shredded leaves right to the soil, add some slow-release nitrogen fertilizers to help the leaves decompose and to ensure that soil microbes don’t use all the available nitrogen.
2. Create a Compost Pile
Make compost for a valuable soil amendment. If you are not already composting, now is a good time to start. Pile autumn leaves in the corner of your yard. Ideally, keep leaves from blowing away with chicken wire. To speed up composition, shred those leaves by running over them with your lawnmower.
3. Make Leaf Mold
Composting sound like too much work? Then make leaf mold, much beloved by English gardeners. Simply rake the leaves into a big pile. If you shred them, they will decompose faster, but you can still make leaf mold without shredding. Keep the leaves moist and let the fungi take over. After one to three years, the leaves will have disintegrated into a dark, sweet-smelling, soil conditioner that is high in calcium and magnesium and retains water. It’s exceptional as an amendment for veggie and flower gardens and a great addition for potting soils.
4. Make Mulch
Leaves make an excellent protective mulch for vegetable crops, berries, and ornamental shrubs. They not only suppress weeds and help retain soil moisture, but because they contain no weed seeds themselves, they won’t encourage the spread of new weeds. Be sure to chop or shred leaves before using them as mulch. Whole leaves can form a mat that water can’t penetrate.
5. Mow into the Lawn
Researchers at Michigan State University have shown that lawns benefit from a thin layer of leaves. Leaf litter improves the soil, lessening the need for fertilizer in the spring. They recommend setting your lawnmower blades about 3 inches high and mowing once a week while the leaves are falling. This will break down the leaves into smaller pieces over the winter, providing your soil with nutrients.
6. Leave the leaves for Wildlife
Leaves aren’t just about being useful to us as humans. Fallen leaves also provide wildlife, especially pollinators, with some winter cover. Bees, moths, butterflies, snails, spiders, and dozens of arthropods and pollinators overwinter in dead plant material for protection from cold weather and predators. For example, the mated queen bumble bees burrow only an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter, relying on natural leaf litter to keep them insulated. Also, many butterflies overwinter as chrysalises or cocoons disguised as dry leaves.
November’s to-do list
I feel fortunate to have a grove of sumac outside my office window; they often have flocks of birds drawn to their tiny berries through the winter, and right now it is the only tree in my yard showing any fall color. Our giant sugar maple and other trees nearby are dropping brown, blighted leaves without any significant fall coloration. I’m hoping for a late shot of color from the later coloring species like the Oaks, but right now its feeling like a sad coda to a wet summer.
I’ve read the latest winter predictions, for a return to a more typical winter with potential for heavy snow early next year. Seems like a long time since we’ve had anything like that. As much as I hate it, sustained cold weather would go a long way towards killing off the dormant garden pests that overwinter more successfully during mild winters. I’ve tried to make an early start to fall cleanup, a lot of perennials just rotted from the rain this season. I decided not to compost most of the plant debris because they were so blighted, and I’m very cautious about lingering disease spores.
I’m writing this month’s edition a little early, but we’ve still not had any cold weather or temperatures approaching frost yet. From this perspective it’s hard to imagine any snow in the next 30 days, but it can happen. You can probably still get in a few more plantings before the ground freezes but think about snow and finish up your last-minute fall chores.
If you’d like to decorate with a living Christmas tree this year, dig a hole now before the ground freezes, mulch the hole with straw, and keep the hole covered with a tarp, until planting time. It may also be helpful to stockpile some unfrozen soil to backfill the planting hole.
Clear away any dropped fruit, and other debris from beneath your fruit trees and shrubs. Leftover fruit can attract gnawing rodents, deer, and rabbits, as well as harbor overwintering fruit tree pests. Toss them all on the compost pile.
Roses grow better with a little preparation to help them acclimatize to winter. Now that roses are dormant, cut the branches back to about 12-18” tall. If you have climbing roses, it’s helpful to tie the branches onto their support with sturdy twine or wire, so they don’t get broken and bent during winter storms. If you want to mulch the bud union of more tender rose plants, wait until after you apply rodent repellent (if you need it) and the ground is frozen.
Now that the bears have gone into hibernation, it’s safe to bring out your bird feeders. Hang out suet feeders to encourage insectivorous birds to keep scouring your garden for bugs. They will continue to hunt for insects, just beginning to hide for the winter, throughout your beds. Consider adding bird friendly shrubs for food and shelter throughout the seasons to your garden. Even if you feed birds, they still need a place to fly back to quickly, to hide from predators. Hawks in particular love to swoop down on bird feeders and snatch away unsuspecting birds. It is important to thoroughly clean and disinfect feeders before each feeding season. Birds require water throughout the year, adding a solar-powered heater to your birdbath can help with their survival through winter.
Need help getting your home and yard ready for the holidays? Countryside Landscape can help with outdoor and indoor decorating, wreaths, Balsam roping, trees and lights.
Please contact our office: (413) 458-5586 or email@example.com
Great gardens to explore-check out these winter garden shows!
Now that our gardening season is over, and our gardens are put to bed, it’s time to head out and take inspiration from what others in the gardening world are doing. There is something about walking into the tropical paradise of a greenhouse from the blustery cold that soothes my winter weary soul. For a little while, I can suspend the world, and relish the warmth and smells of lush growing plants.
Smith College’s annual Fall Chrysanthemum show: showcases the hybridizing experiments by Smith College horticulture students, takes place November 4th – 18th, 2023. Open from 10-4pm daily, 10-8pm Fridays, at the Lyman Plant House 16 College Lane, Northampton, MA. You’ve never seen mums like these fancy flowers!
The New York Botanic Garden’s annual Holiday Train Show is a fun experience for the whole family, not just avid gardeners. NYBG’s Holiday Train Show has been making memories for over 30 years! See model trains zip through an enchanting display of more than 190 replicas of New York landmarks, each delightfully re-created from natural materials such as birch bark, lotus pods, and much more. November 17th – January 15th, 2024, 2900 Southern Blvd. Bronx, NY https://www.nybg.org/visit/
The Connecticut Flower Show arrives at the CT Convention Center, 100 Columbus Avenue, from February 22nd – 25th, 2024. This show packs in demonstrations, garden equipment, seminars, and gorgeous display gardens- in the dead of winter! More info: https://ctflowershow.com/
The Western MA Home & Garden Show opens at Eastern States Exposition Grounds
1305 Memorial Ave West Springfield, MA from March 21st – 24th, 2024 Many exhibitors offering ideas to improve your home and garden. More information:https://westernmasshomeshow.com/consumers/show-attractions/
All-America Selections is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties then introduces only the best garden performers as AAS Winners. Judges are in geographically diverse areas all over the U.S. and Canada. The AAS Winners offer gardeners reliable new varieties that have proven their superior garden performance in Trial Grounds across North America. Here are a few of the AAS flower winners for 2023:
Snapdragon DoubleShot Orange Bicolor – DoubleShot Snapdragon Orange Bicolor is part of a new series of intermediate-height snaps perfect for the garden or as cut flowers. The stunning open-faced double flowers emerge in beautiful warm shades of orange and orange-red that transition to a dusty shade as they age. AAS Judges across the country were impressed with the strong stems that produced more branches resulting in a higher flower count. These stems produced romantic flowers all season long (even in lower light conditions) that didn’t break off in strong winds. This pollinator friendly plant is also very frost tolerant, so makes a good season extender. Grows 18-20” tall.
Snapdragon DoubleShot Orange Bicolor
Salvia Blue by You-This perennial has rich blue flowers that bloom up to two weeks earlier than the comparisons. With excellent winter hardiness and heat tolerance, Blue by You will be a new favorite in your perennial, pollinator, cutting, and container gardens. Bursting with bright blue blossoms from late spring into fall, you’ll get repeat blooms throughout the season when spent blooms are removed. Adored all season long by hummingbirds and butterflies. Bonus: it is not browsed by deer or rabbits. Prefers full sun exposure, grows 20-22” tall, very resistant to powdery mildew.
Salvia Blue by You
Marigold Siam Gold– has beautiful, mounded foliage that produces globe-like, fully double golden flowers all season long. The large flowers are held on top of sturdy stems and above the foliage for full color visibility making a striking focal point in the garden. Blooms were very tight and held up all summer long. The uniformity of the plant gives a neat, tidy appearance in the garden. Siam Gold is excellent for cut flowers, but no staking is needed. Prefers full sun exposure, grows 18-20” tall x 16-20” wide.
Marigold Siam Gold
Leucanthemum Carpet Angel- The first-ever groundcover Shasta Daisy! Plant breeders have created a first-year flowering perennial that is daylength neutral, this means earlier blooms that continue all season long. Large 3-inch flowers boast a second inner frilly bloom adding to the unique look of Carpet Angel. Growing only to a height of 6” tall, this unique Leucanthemum can act as a groundcover spreading up to 20 inches wide. Fantastic branching on this new AAS winner means more flower stems sporting beautiful pure white blooms that look like angels dancing over a carpet of dark green foliage. A little deadheading of spent flowers will reward you with even more blooms all summer long. Great for container gardens as well. Grows 4-6” tall x 18-20” wide.
Shasta Daisy Carpet Angel