As winter approaches, there are always extra garden chores that need to be done. I’ve become a rather lazy gardener and am substituting some of the old standard cleanup tasks for new ones. My new routine will make life easier and fall gardening more pleasant.
First of all, I can lighten up on watering. Days are shorter and shrubs need less water as they prepare for winter. Annual flowers are dying back or have already “bitten the dust.” Decide what is worth spending water on. Annuals come to the end of their lives and go to seed in the fall. Let annuals settle into their own pattern of survival. If you want them to reseed themselves, let them dry and scatter their own seeds. Plants such as poppies, calendula, sweet peas, nasturtiums and alyssum are self-sowing. You’ll enjoy newly sprouted plants as soon as rains moisten the earth.
I’m letting Mother Nature do my work for me this year. Trust the old girl to break down leaves and create food for trees and shrubs. No need to be fastidious and remove every fallen leaf. After all, your garden is “out of doors.” Rake leaves of deciduous trees and put them over the roots of shrubs and trees. Or make a pile in an inconspicuous place and let nature do its work. You’ll have compost in the spring.
I’m trying something different in my vegetable boxes this year. I usually fill the empty boxes with dry, dead leaves from the apple and pear trees, and let it compost over the winter. Then dig it into the soil. This year, I’m layering the beds with a single layer of cardboard first, then putting the dead and dry leaves on top of it. Cardboard adds carbon to compost. This layering of compostable materials is loosely called “lasagna gardening.” Sow bugs and worms will eat it over the winter, and the soil will be enriched. Magically, I’ve fertilized without lifting a bag. Just remove any material that might not have broken down and the bed is ready to plant.
I’m waiting to cut back hydrangeas this year. I usually remove blossoms as they fade. In winter, when new leaves begin to emerge, I prune again. This year, I’m leaving the big “mop heads” and “lace caps“ on the plant until stems send out new leaves. I’ll be pruning and deadheading at the same time.
There are lots of ways to save energy on gardening, and many of you have already put techniques into practice. Email me at the address below with suggestions I can share in my column or on my garden blog. Hopefully, we’ll all make more time to enjoy our gardens.
Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. She shares her garden and chickens online at www.centralcoastgardening.com and www.backyardhen.com. Email her with gardening questions at cambria firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tip of the month
The color of hydrangeas will change according to the pH level (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil. You cannot be certain of the pH levels of your garden unless you use a testing kit or probe that gives you a good idea of the pH range.
If your garden is wooded, it’s most likely acid soil and has a pH below 6.0. If is claylike, with little humus, it is likely alkaline with a pH over 6.0. You can change the pH of soil by adding soil sulfur for more acidic soil (blue hydrangeas) and wood ashes and lime for a more alkaline soil (pinker hydrangeas).
If you want to make gardening easier, enrich the soil with compost and “let it be.”