October 18, 2011

The Autumn Garden Clean-Up

Autumn has come to Medfield in stealth fashion this year. Usually, some time between mid-September and early October, there’s a cold snap, the temperatures drop into the upper twenties, and fall begins with a vengeance. This year, thermometers across eastern Massachusetts have registered some six degrees above normal all month and we’ve not yet seen a frost.

The result is that the leaves on the trees hereabouts know the days are getting shorter, but there hasn’t been the catalyst for a brilliant autumn. So, despite ample rain, it’s been dull, color-wise. It’s a rare year when annuals are still green but the trees are becoming bare.

Before and after
Still, we’re putting the garden to bed because the calendar dictates our schedule. The vegetable garden fence is down and all that remains are some late autumn staples – lettuce, leeks and carrots. The gardens around out home are being cut down: the ‘before and after’ photos at left of the upper and lower shade beds tells the story.

We’re also using the clean-up of beds to ‘re-think’ the garden. One of Betty’s popular lecture is on making gardens easier to maintain as owners age. I was 49 when we moved to our home on Wild Holly Lane. Twelve-plus years later, I feel the difference in my ability to do ‘heavy’ gardening. And so low-maintenance shrubs are slowly displacing high-maintenance perennials. Last week, the last of the bearded iris were pulled out of the inner and outer sidewalk bed. The iris put on a great show for about ten days a year, but at a cost: iris borers are endemic in this area and every plant needed to be inspected every year. This year, as I pulled them out, I found that 90%-plus of the tubers had tell-tale holes indicating borer damage.

The most time-consuming part of the winterizing process is the emptying of containers. We had more than 50 this year and they made their appearance over a six- or eight-week period that started in early May and continued through much of June. They all went away in a single week.

These pots represent about
half of the ones to be cleaned
and stored for the winter
About 20 of them will over-winter in the garage once the temperatures drop. Those are the ones with shrubs like our loropetalum, cape plumbago, crape myrtle and acuba.

It’s the ones with annuals and ‘tender’ perennials that are the subject of a furious cleaning process. The containers are taken apart. Most of the plants go straight into the compost. Perennials that might overwinter with some care go into individual pots and then either into the nursery bed or into a cold frame. The remaining potting mix is dumped in with other compostables. In a few years, it will return to the garden as soil but will never be re-used in a container. From the bottom of the containers come the ‘ballast’ that Betty uses to keep the weight of the pots down – things like bags filled with stryrofoam ‘packing peanuts’ and plastic water bottles. Those will be washed and re-used in 2012 just as most had an earlier incarnation in 2010.

The last steps are to wash all the containers with a bleach solution to kill off any pathogens that might lurk. When they’ve thoroughly dried, everything goes into the basement; stacked three and four pots high.

Ready and waiting for 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment