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Report From PIA – November 7

Many of the calls on GardenLine this morning were about fall cleanup: what to cut down, keep or throw away. When I got back from the radio station I did some clipping, dumping and raking myself, and composted this list of guidelines.

1.  Anyone who bags leaves and ships them off their property is a fool. Leaves are fantastic for soil amendment. Pile them and let them compost for a year, or chop them with the lawnmower and use them for mulching the beds.

2.  It’s fine if you want to keep potted annuals such as geraniums and mandevilla vine, but it’s perfectly OK to toss them in the compost. If you can’t bare to throw out plants that are still blooming and looking good, leave them outside until the temperatures go below 30. Oops! They frosted and died…guess they need to go!

3.  It’s better to leave woody plants in the garden as is, and save the trimming and pruning for spring. This applies to lavender, roses, butterfly bush, Russian sage and summer flowering spirea.

4.  When uncertain which perennials to cut back in the fall, let my little rhyme be a guide. If it’s green, it must be seen. If it’s brown, cut it down. Simply explained, if the foliage looks as good as it did in the summer, than it’s probably capable of photosynthesis, and is still doing a job for the plant. If the foliage has turned brown or is on its way, the plant has shut down for the winter and it’s fine to cut it down to an inch or two tall.

5.  If you want to wait and clear the garden in the spring, that’s a perfectly acceptable approach. The up side is that the wildlife appreciates the seeds and shelter, and many dead plants look pretty with the snow on them. The downside is that any diseases such as mildew spores stay in the garden, and the seeds present may sprout next spring. There is not clear right or wrong, however, so do what suits you best.

In all areas of life we are well off asking what is serving us well, or which things should be discarded. It’s just easier in the garden.

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