It's time to rake leaves, plant bulbs

Friday September 28, 2012

There are few gardening tasks that I do not enjoy. I even find pleasure in weeding. However, if there's one gardening chore I can do without, it's lawn mowing. It wouldn't be so bad if my wife would drop her objection to getting a herd of sheep.

The only thing that makes mowing tolerable is that it's a mindless activity -- some would argue that it's a job for which I am well-suited. Actually, I do spend a lot of time observing and evaluating our gardens and landscape as I push the gas-powered beast around the yard. I often think of changes I'd like to make, e.g., allow more of the lawn to revert to a meadow, expand the width of perennial borders to reduce the size of the lawn, and turn over some lawn areas to create low-maintenance shrub borders. Finally, in this era of energy conservation, I think of ways to convince my wife that lawn mowers consume more gas than sheep emit.

None of this weekend's gardening activities need gas to be completed:

  • Rake up falling leaves. Yes, it's a bit early for trees to be dropping leaves. Many of these trees were severely stressed during this summer's drought. However, much of the early leaf drop is due to foliar diseases, which quickly developed with the arrival of late summer rains. Diseased leaves are best buried rather than tossed on the compost pile.
  • Gather ye nuts while ye may. Hickory nuts are my favorite. Mature hickory nuts are now dropping to the ground, but gather them quickly since they are also favorites of our resident squirrel population. Speaking of which, I can't recall seeing so many squirrels as this year. Fortunately there are a lot of nuts in the Berkshires to keep them happy -- Why is that squirrel smiling at me?
  • Start with daffodils, hyacinths and the smaller bulbs when planting spring flowering bulbs. Then plant tulips in mid- to late October or in November, if we have a mild fall. Most tulip varieties don't produce flowers again after the first year. For repeat flowering, plant tulip varieties labeled for naturalizing; these include species or botanical tulips, and hybrids, such as Darwin and Emperor tulips.
  • Set aside some bulbs for forcing indoors. Pre-cooled bulbs are best for this purpose since they will begin growing soon after being planted into pots, bowls, or other decorative containers. Otherwise, the bulbs have to be potted up and then given a cold treatment of 35 to 48 degrees for 8 to 12 weeks. Bulbs that normally bloom later spring require longer cold treatment.
  • Search the landscape for plants with interesting seed heads. The seed heads not only add interest to the late season garden, but can also be used in dried flower arrangements. Plants with attractive seed heads include ornamental grasses, globe thistle, teasel, fall-blooming sedums and purple coneflower.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials. The ground is still warm and moist. These are ideal conditions for planting, but set out plants soon since they'll need time to establish their roots before the ground freezes.
  • Dig and divide peonies to create more plants for the garden or to trade with friends who may have varieties that you do not. Peonies are long-lived, almost trouble-free plants. That's why they can often be seen around old farmsteads. About the only precaution to take when replanting a peony is to be sure that the top of the rootstock is no more than two inches below ground level.

Want to get free admission to next weekend's (Oct. 6 and 7) Harvest Festival at the Berkshire Botanical Garden? Become a volunteer. That's just one of several perks offered by the Botanical Garden to volunteers helping with the festival. Call Sharon at 413-298-3926, ext. 14, or email sshepherd@ to sign up!


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