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Fall garden choices

10/23/04 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer expects to be busy this weekend with lots of fall garden chores.

(Homeyer) The gardening season is winding down, and I'm trying to get caught up on my chores. There are still leaves to rake, but we've cleaned up the vegetable garden. We've pulled the weeds and spread compost on it, and hauled away the dead plants so pests and diseases won't winter over in the garden - only to come back next year.

I'll spread this year's leaves over everything once I've raked them up. That'll keep weeds from germinating early next spring, and will add organic matter and minerals to the soil.

I've been working on my flower beds, too. Fall's a good time to divide perennials and move things around. Some plants like to spread out, moving downfield like the New England Patriots. But unless you put your foot down from time to time, dainty little things will get swallowed up and disappear.

Weeds are even worse, of course, and I'm trying to get them under control. Sometimes it's easier just to dig up everything in a flower bed to get rid of those weeds and thin out the adventurous plants - and then start all over again.

Although plants with tap roots - peonies and lupine, for example - hate to be moved, most other things do not. You can dig up and move daylilies, iris, hostas, phlox, asters and daisies, for example, with no ill effects. In fact, Shasta daisies will die out after a few years unless you DO dig them up, divide them, and revitalize the soil. Bearded iris dies out in the middle of a clump for the same reason- they've used up the goodies in the soil.

And I'm trying to fix my mistakes, too, moving things that were planted in the wrong spot. Five years ago I planted a perennial in front of a stone wall. But it grew to be 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide, blocking my view of the stone work. So I recently dug it out, and exiled it to a bed of tall asters and phlox.

Speaking of phlox, some of my best phlox suffered from mildew this year for the first time. The clump had gotten so big that the leaves didn't dry out between the rainy days, and ended up looking awful. When I cut off the tops, I didn't put them in the compost pile because that would be inviting trouble. I have a place for diseased plants and agressive weeds in a far corner of the property , and I won't use it for compost.

I may never get to the end of my list of fall chores, but it does give an excuse to get outside on nice days. And if the weather turns bad and I don't get everything done, I can always do it in the spring. After all, gardening is supposed to be fun, not work!

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

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.
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