Fall Time Tips for the Lawn and Garden
Ah, the leaves.
‘Tis the season to clean up all the little harbingers of winter, as homeowners enlist rakes, mulching leaf blowers and armies of brown paper bags to fight the onslaught of fall.
There are actually gadgets that make this tedious task easier, such as “Leaf Scoops,” which let caretakers grab larger heaps of lawn matter into their receptacle of choice–often times lawn and leaf bags– which can be conveniently held open with devices like “Hopper Toppers” and “Bag Funnels.”
There’s also the “suck and chew” method, where a vacuuming device (like the Black and Decker “Leaf Hog“) extracts leaves from around the house, grinds them up 10 to 20 times smaller than when they entered, and deposits them into an attached bag. As a result, the space-saving homeowner uses less leaf bags or trashcans for their leaf debris.
Or what about adjustable rakes, which can expand for maximum reach and contract to clean under dense shrubbery and hard-to-reach crevices? Pretty cool, right?
Compost and Mulching
But before you leave your leaves on the curbside to be hauled away, consider using them in the garden.
As Jane Shellenberger, editor of Colorado Gardener Magazine says, “Leaves are one of the best garden ingredients, and free for the taking.”
During the course of their slow decomposition, leaves are indeed a valuable source of nutrients for a healthy soil and the organisms that live there, like beneficial microbes and earthworms.
Using a garden fork, add shredded leaves and your favorite compost into the existing garden bed soil, cover it on top with a few inches of the same shredded leaves, and soak the area with plenty of water or good amount of compost tea.
The top layer of mulch insulates and holds in moisture, and this will create a thriving miniature ecosystem for the living colonies that are conducive to future plant health.
*If you maintain a chemical-free garden, make sure not to add leaves from trees treated with systemic insecticides, as they may taint the organic nature of your garden. It’s also a good idea to avoid using leaves from a tree or shrub that looked sickly during the growing season, because blight and bacteria overwinters easily in soil. We recommend disposing of any suspects, just to be safe.
Another option for fall garden bed preparation is to plant an annual cover crop, like winter rye or clover, in the areas that have been recently harvested and now sit exposed. After all, it’s better to have something growing in your soil than to have it sit unused, and its gratitude will come in the form of a better crop next season.
The other name for cover crops is “green manure,” because they actively return nitrogen to the soil.
These cold-tolerant, non-invasive plants build up garden bed growing ability in the off-season, while actively fighting pests and disease, plus their penetrating roots reverse the tendency for Colorado soil to return to its natural state of compaction.
When the spring rolls around, and a few weeks before you’re ready to plant, just rake these cover-crops annuals directly back into the soil for a fresh source of organic nitrogen your plants will love.
For color next spring, it’s best to plant bulbs in the fall when the ground is still workable.
Choose well-draining spots in full sun to plant your bulbs.
Using a bulb planter (handheld or long-handled for larger undertakings) or a soil drill bit to take out a core in the areas you want to plant. The size of the core depends on the variety of bulb, but the rule of thumb is generally to plant them three times wider than the bulb’s width. Take a look at this chart for detailed instructions on how deep to plant bulbs (our hardiness zone is 5b-6a).
Plant one bulb (teardrop shape up) at the bottom of each hole, add a tablespoon of bone meal or your favorite bulb food and fill the hole with a 50/50 mix of the native soil (that you removed in the core) and compost. Water well, and for bulbs that are not in the lawn, consider a good mulching to keep them moist and protected.
If you typically have problems with chipmunks and voles eating your bulbs before they have a chance to grow, you may want to treat them before you plant them, giving them a good coat of a hot capsaicin or bitter thymol product, often available in your local hardware store. The other option is to individually wrap each bulb in chicken wire to physically prevent critters from chewing.
Now that your landscape is prepped and tidy, set up some pumpkins, squash and mums for added fall flair!