Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: The good, the bad and the ugly ... the garden variety

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As I stare out the window, I see the good, the bad, the ugly. The good is the colorful fall foliage that defines New England in October. The bad is the premature dropping of leaves from many of these trees, especially from sugar and red maples, ash and birch. The ugly is the prevalence of diseases that affected tree leaves this past growing season, largely due to frequent and heavy rains, which aided in dispersal and subsequent entry of the fungi responsible for the diseases. Raking up and composting or otherwise disposing of the infected leaves can reduce the incidence of disease next year.

The good news is that the weather is still warm and the soil moist enough for planting shrubs and trees. The bad news is that mice, voles and rabbits like to gnaw on the bark of stems of young woody plants. The ugly is that such gnawing will often kill the plant. To protect the plant, place a cylinder of fine-weave wire mesh, e.g. hardware cloth, around the stems of these trees and shrubs to prevent the bark from being gnawed. Be sure to remove the wire mesh next spring. I admit to having once neglected doing so and years later found the mesh embedded in the bark. That was, indeed, ugly and not very bright.

The good is the abundance of vegetables we are still harvesting. The bad is that the growing season is fast coming to an end, particularly for the tender crops. The ugly is the remnants of melons, squash and pumpkins that were eaten by ravenous squirrels, whose population, by numerous reports, was exceptionally high this year. Typically, the population levels of animals such as squirrels are cyclic. As their population increases, they are subject to increased predation by hawks, foxes, bobcats and coyotes. Now, let's just hope that these creatures follow the laws of nature, although I'm not sure who enforces these laws.

The good is the memory of this summer's glorious flower gardens. The bad is that the flowers are mostly now spent and the foliage is browned, withered and should be cut back. The ugly is the existence of deer ticks hidden among the plant debris on the ground around the plants. The ticks are still active and the usual precautions should be employed to protect oneself from the disease-carrying critters. For details on protecting yourself from the ticks, go to tickencounter.org/prevention/protect_yourself.

The good is the lush green appearance of lawns. The bad is the need to get out there and keep mowing regularly. The ugly is allowing leaves to accumulate on lawns for several days or weeks and smothering the grass underneath. This is especially a concern with lawns newly seeded last month. Keep mowing and raking as long as grass is growing and leaves are falling. At the last mowing of the year, reduce the cutting height of the mower to two inches. By the way, leaves accumulating on the lawn can be shredded with a mower, raked up and worked into garden soils as a way of sustaining the level of essential organic matter in the soil. If no fertilizer was applied to lawns in early September (the best time of year for a lawn fertilizer application), it can be applied in early November before the ground freezes. Grass roots will take up and store the nutrients, which will support new growth next spring.

The good is that we have so many tools and equipment to aid us in planting and maintaining our gardens and landscapes. The bad is that, as the gardening season is drawing to a close, it will soon be time to gather these tools and put them away for winter. The ugly is that most of the tools need to be cleaned, repaired and/or winterized. For example, garden hoses need to be thoroughly drained, then coiled and stored lying flat somewhere indoors, where they will not be exposed to freezing temperatures. Trowels, hoes and other hand tools should be cleaned of clinging soil; metal parts wire brushed to remove any rust and then wiped with an oily rag or sprayed with WD-40; and wooden handles sanded, if needed, and then treated with warmed linseed oil. Power equipment must also be winterized, i.e. mower decks cleaned, oil changed, gas burned off, drained or treated with stabilizer, and air filters cleaned or replaced. For a complete list of proper equipment maintenance, check the owner's manual for each piece of equipment. If a manual has been lost, there are web sites where such equipment manuals may be downloaded, often free of charge.

The good is that this is the last Garden Journal of the year. You may rejoice! Hopefully, the rest of your fall and the winter will be free of bad and ugly. See you next spring!

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