Saunders, Real Estate, Hamptons

Hamptons Life

Nov 16, 2018 12:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Work Off Thanksgiving Dinner With Fall Garden Chores

Ginko leaves fall from the tree all at once the morning after the first freeze. While beautiful, if they are left on a lawn they can quickly smother the grass underneath and should be removed. ANDREW MESSINGER
Nov 16, 2018 12:58 PM

It’s Thanksgiving week and most of you will eat too much. Well, there’s good news.This weekend is the perfect time to work off lots of those extra calories by working outdoors and getting your property, however humble or expansive, ready for winter. If you missed last week’s column, there are other end-of-the-season garden tips there, but here are more.

Except for the leaves on our oaks and beeches, most of the foliage has fallen and this is the time to move the leaves off the lawn and “bank” them, shred them or compost them. If you leave the leaves on your lawn, they’ll mat down and eventually kill or damage the grass plants. Just the simple act of mowing the leaves with your mower will start a process that breaks them down much faster, giving Mother Nature a helping hand. But even then, too much of a good thing can smother grass plants.

If you or your gardener aren’t using mulching blades on your mowers, then raking or blowing is the next choice. Blowing leaves has become somewhat more complex depending on where you live. In more than 120 communities there are now restrictions on using leaf blowers. While Long Island seems to be lagging in this trend, communities across the sound in Westchester and Connecticut are leading the movement to limit and in some cases outright ban leaf blowers. The movement is certainly blowing in our direction, though.

But once you’ve blown the leaves, what do you do with them? Pile them on the street waiting for your village or town to vac them up? Have your landscaper haul them away to a composting facility where the leaves will be sold back to them in the spring as the compost that goes into your garden? Or do the most sensible thing by shredding and composting them right at home? Shredding isn’t necessary, but it does reduce the bulk by up to 80 percent and speeds up the composting process. Oh, and don’t forget the leaves can also be used as a winter mulch.

It’s way too early to add winter mulches though, so if that’s the route you’re choosing, you’ll need a place to “bank” or store your leaves. This can be done at an isolated spot on the property, but I do it right at the base of my maple and ash trees. Then in December, if and when the ground is good and cold or frozen, I simply rake the leaves onto a tarp and drag them to the gardens, where they are added as the winter mulch to keep the plants snug and protected from the sun and winter heaving.

And if you’ve got lots of pine trees, don’t trash those valuable pine needles that can fall to the ground. Rake the needles up and use them as a mulch around rhododendrons, azaleas and your blueberry plants. I was taught that the pine needles were too acidic to use as a mulch, but when I began spending time in Georgia and South Carolina, I was seeing bales and bags of pine needles being sold in big box stores and garden—for mulching. They don’t add a great deal of acidification, but just enough so that they can really be a benefit to our acid-loving plants.

But be it leaves or needles, there are a few cautions about mulches going down now or in the weeks to come. Always keep mulches away from the crowns and trunks of trees and shrubs. This is especially important around the bases of fruit trees, especially apples, and quince bushes. Mulches up against the ground stems and trunks of these invite voles who hide under the mulch, taking refuge from the raptors (hawks and falcons) hunting for them. Under the protection of the mulch, the voles are able to gnaw and the bark for winter sustenance with little fear of predators. Keep mulches six inches to a foot away from fruit trees and bushes.

And with the plants coming out of our gardens, the deer will now begin browsing on our shrubs. So it’s time to start a spray or sprinkle regime to protect them. Most of the sprays are colorless, but some impart a whitish haze and, one I recently saw, a pretty undesirable chalkish lime green. Remember to reapply repellent sprays every three to four weeks even if the directions claim to provide “season-long protection.” And for your most prized plants, the combination of repellents and fencing is required. You don’t need to fence the entire property, though. Individual plants or groupings of plants can be fence protected.

And speaking of protection, last week I mentioned Bobbex-R as a bulb dip to ward off rodents. But there’s another trick to keep the deer from digging up bulbs: horizontally applied deer fencing.

Get some heavy-duty deer fencing at a garden center that has openings of around one inch and lay it over the areas you’ve planted. Also pick up some sod stakes or sod staples and push them deep into the ground, securing the fencing to the soil at the edges. This has worked for us for a number of years in both large mass plantings of tulips and on smaller areas keeping both squirrels and deer from digging.

If you value your tools, especially your spades and shovels, they can take some TLC before you put them away for the season. Stainless steel tools simply need to be washed and dried off before storage, but other steel and iron tools need one additional step. They need to be oiled. Years ago, the estate gardeners would take a metal pail, fill it with sand then saturate the sand with motor oil or another light duty oil. The cleaned shovels or spades would then be forced into the oil soaked sand and left for several minutes. When pulled out, the metal would have a light coating of oil on it that would protect the metal from rusting over the winter.

We’re a bit more conscious about what we’d do with this oil/sand mix once it’s used, so that method of treatment really isn’t practical anymore. You could simply add some oil to a rag and coat the blade. I suspect that olive oil or canola oil will offer some protection but not as much as a petroleum-based oil. Even a spray of WD-40 could work as a protectant—just get it off the tools before you start digging in the spring.

And a late-fall chore for the kids. Show them what dandelion foliage looks like and maybe even one in flower as the flowers will open again on a warm day. Offer them a monetary reward for each dandelion plant they can get out of the ground. The trick, though, is that you don’t want to offer reward just for the leaves or flowers. Teach them how to get the whole plant, root and all, out of the ground. My father used to give a penny for each plant and back in the day it was pretty easy to fill a wheelbarrow. I think a nickel or dime would be a more appropriate award in 2018. Keep growing.

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