The leaves are brown, and the lawn needs raking

The wind finally is knocking down leaves, which now need to be raked. It’s been a funny autumn; October was cold enough that house plants came in early, but trees did not get color until late and leaves are only coming down now.

If you have ever left unraked leaves in an area, you know they form an impenetrable mat which will kill the grass under them. You can use this to discourage grass and weeds in areas you have other plans for. The ground under one of my maples has not been raked for several years and almost nothing grows there (no mowing).

I do rake leaves where I want grass to continue growing and the wind hasn’t kept the leaves moving. I have been known to kick leaves to keep them moving. Leaves that are raked onto a tarp get dragged to the woods or places to hopefully mat down weedy vegetation. Leaves that are raked into leaf bags and put out for the town to collect become compost for next year.

Herbaceous perennials, plants whose tops die back every fall then regrow in the spring (such as lilies, purple cone flower, peonies), get their tops cut off now. They also get raked so their roots will be fully exposed to the cold. After the ground freezes, I let leaves accumulate to insulate and keep the roots cold. It does mean spring raking, but that usually happens, anyway. If peonies are in the lawn, they get mowed after being cut down.

We had a discussion at the Sandusky Valley Herb Society about the treatment of woody herbs (lavender, thyme, sage) for the winter. Some members prune the herbs now, some in the spring, and Janet DelTurco said she was letting her plants grow to get taller plants. You can prune/harvest these herbs now for continued culinary or decorative uses.

Another fall job is getting all the bird feeders ready for winter visitors. Suet feeders are scrubbed in hot, soapy water with bleach to disinfect them, then thoroughly rinsed. The gourd bird feeders were damaged by squirrels, so I’ve cut two new ones.

My birds, like my plants and dogs, are spoiled. The gourd feeders hold in-shell peanuts for the bluejays and shelled peanuts for titmice, nuthatches and the red bellied woodpecker. There are two sunflower feeders that need to be cleaned of old seed and mold (can harbor botulism, which will kill birds) then refilled.

Finches like nyger seed and safflower seeds, and those feeders need to be cleaned before reuse. There are two feeders with mixed seed for sparrows. If you are so inclined, a fun but messy project is getting white pine cones, smearing them with melted peanut butter, then rolling them in birdseed. The cones may be hung from tree branches. Lastly, the bowl of the birdbath is removed or inverted so ice won’t break it.

Susan Carty is a local gardener and a professor emerita of biology at Heidelberg University.

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