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Putting the garden to bed

10/28/03 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer says that its time to tuck in your perennials and put the garden to bed.


(Homeyer) As the days get shorter and colder, it gets harder to ignore the fact that winter is headed our way. Somehow I'm not fully prepared for winter. Yes, I've stacked the wood and cleaned up the vegetable garden. I've planted 200 spring bulbs. But psychologically I'm not ready for winter. But doing a little gardening every day helps me to fend off the "Winter's Coming Blues."

Today I dug up some bulbs, then divided and replanted them. Bulbs get less vigorous over time, but dividing them and adding some compost and minerals to their new planting hole will give them a new lease on life. Daffodils will last virtually forever if you divide them at least every 10 years. I add rock phosphate and a slow release organic fertilizer in the soil around them.

The perennial gardens are getting a nice top dressing of compost. I got a truck load of cow manure last year, but it was too fresh to use. Now, a year later, it's light, fluffy, and full of earthworms. I'm in the process of spreading it out on my flower beds, an inch or more everywhere. Half an inch on the lawn would be good, too.

I haven't raked the leaves yet, but one day soon I'll run over them with the lawn mower to break them up. Some I will rake onto a tarp and lug away to use as mulch in flower beds. The rest I will use to cover the vegetable garden. A 3 to 4 inch layer of leaves will help to keep weed seeds from blowing into the soil now, and will discourage weeds from growing in the spring.

Fall is also the time when I prune deciduous trees and shrubs. Once the leaves have fallen it's easy to see branches that need to be removed. I'll take out any that are dead or damaged, and any that are rubbing against others. Pruning should open up a tree to sunlight, so branches that are headed toward the center of a tree or shrub are good candidates for removal. If I don't find time to do them now, I can always prune them this winter.

Although we've already planted our garlic, it's not too late to plant some if you haven't. Buy garlic from a garden center, as grocery store garlic is often treated with chemicals to keep it from germinating. Even organic garlic might not grow for you if it's from California, and not hardy enough for our winters.

Lastly, I need to finish cutting perennial flowers to the ground. Old fashioned hedge clippers with 10 inch blades are faster than scissors, though I've found that electric hedge clippers are speedier yet. I'll leave a few tall things to stand up above the snow to remind me that spring will get here - eventually.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.
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