Back to Back Issues Page
Fall Cleanup Continues
October 28, 2013

How was your week?

I'm slowly plugging away at outdoor chores (when the weather allows).

Still no killing frost or freezes here in my part of southwest Michigan.

We are getting close to some record tying or making territory.

Yes we still have some flowers in bloom.

(Red Salvia and Agastache.)

Because of the warm September and first half of October, we still have plenty of trees that are green or just now, changing colors.

I think we might have a leaf dump with a half of foot of snow on the ground.

(Gaura, or whirling butterfly in bloom.)

I have a niece that lives near the Indiana border, and she says most trees are still green.

I'm sharing a few pictures from around here.

A colorful maple at woods edge.

A Sugar maple and Red maple that should be a fiery orange and crimson red (if the leaves haven't fallen by now), are just now showing some color.

At the bottom is a Large cottonwood tree that is still mostly green (with some yellow).

The last picture is the Bradford pear in my yard (as green as can be).

I know Bradford pears are one of the last trees to change and drop, but this is something else.

Still, there are many trees that have dropped, but more that still need to change.

An interesting Autumn for sure.

The cardinal pictures is the young fledgling I shared a couple of weeks ago with you.

I've watched him become independent and rapidly molting into his young adult colors.

It is fascinating to see how Nature takes care of the late crop of birds with a rapid process like this.

The cold rains last week brought many worms to the surface.

The worms brought scores of robins to the surrounding yards and sidewalks.

It almost looked and sounded like spring once again.

This is typical of robins, however.

Dark eyed juncos are back from their summer breeding grounds.

Juncos summer in the northern states, Canada, and the higher elevations (within the tree line) along the mountains of North America.

Some may see the impending doom of winter.

I welcome old friends.

This week, we need to tackle some fall clean up.

Even our friends in the south can take notes and follow these tips in another month or so.


By now most veggie gardens are done producing.

At least that is so here in the northern regions.

Without a killing frost or freeze, here in southwest Michigan, Flower gardens and pots are still blooming.

Days grow short, and the temperatures continue to cool down.

The lack of daylight and heat has all but stopped plant growth, but some annuals and a few perennials are still blooming.

That however, doesn't mean you can't do some fall clean up here and there.

There are plenty of gardening chores, even for our friends in the deep south that still have a growing season.

Is it possible, you stayed on top of things throughout the growing season?

(Confused Becky Daisy.)

What I mean is this....

Some gardeners are with the program and clean out old vegetation from spent perennials and harvested crops, and weeds.

You may have good intentions, and start out with a plan.

Often, you are like me and start out with good intentions, only to get side tracked.

I digress.

By cleaning up old and overgrown vegetation, you help to eliminate bugs and diseases that over winter and haunt you and your garden next year.

Unless a compost pile can generate enough heat to kill off fungus and viruses, you are well served to trash leaves and and cut back plants, that are covered in mildew, black spot and the like.

You will be wise if you rake up the dropped leaves and trash as well.

When you leave infected foliage and stems, fungus will get an early start.

Plants that carry a virus, will never get better.

You can spray and water with anti viral chemicals to minimize or prevent sickness, but a plant with a virus, will never get cured.

Why spread the virus with a compost heap?

Once your vegetable and flower gardens are cleaned out and trimmed back, if its not too wet to work or walk on, it is time to work the soil.

This can be done a couple of ways.

Turn over the soil and cover with aged manure and or compost.

Or, you can spread compost and manure and then work it in or turn over.

Even in the cold months of winter, micro-organisms, and worms can break down matter if the ground isn't frozen.

Research also shows that it is best to work your soil in the fall rather than the spring.

Turning over your soil in the fall also allows for dirt clumps to break down, and oxygen to remain.

If you wait till spring to work the soil, you risk soil compaction.

Compacted soil is never a good thing when you want to grow.

When you rake the fallen leaves from your yard, don't trash them.

If you can mulch them, all the better.

Many leaf blowers turn into mulchers.

Most lawnmowers are mulching mowers.

Use these to grind up the leaves as best possible.

Leaves torn in small chunks will decompose much faster, and they wont compact and become an almost impenetrable layer of slimy leaves.

If you don't have a tree or you don't have enough leaves, it is time to ask your neighbors or go out and pick up several bags of leaves to mulch.

Tree leaves are mostly carbon, and take some time to break down, but when done properly, leaves become what is often called leaf mold or black gold.

You can spread the leaves over your gardens now as a mulch or even a soil protector.

Another advantage to leaves.........

(While some Cottonwoods have dropped, many are still changing colors, as seen by this picture taken Saturday.)

They are pretty much free of weed seeds.

Mulched leaves in bins or garbage bags will slowly break down, and in time will give you a wonderful dark brown to almost black loam that can be used for a multitude of things.

Watching how nature can work is yet another way how our 'Creator' continues to teach us as well.

Most natural things (look at a forest floor) when they break down will provide your gardens most of the nutrients your flowers and vegetables need.

(Shredded Leaves)

Grass clippings are mostly nitrogen and decompose rather quickly.

Spread clippings around your gardens (thin layers) or mix some with your leaves to quicken decomposition of the leaves.

A gentle spray of water also aids in breaking down the organic material.

If you don'y have a vegetable garden, or don't want to mess with leaf bins or bags, sprinkle a 2-4 inch (5-10 cm) layer of mulched leaves on your flower beds.

Not only will the leaves work as an insulator for some perennials, they continue to slowly break down.

In spring, the layer of leaves are well on the way to becoming part of the earth.

Part of the natural process is the leaf and small twig matter will offer nesting material for your birds, and several species of birds are ground foragers and will scratch and peck their way around your gardens.

This time of year, I enjoy Dark eyed juncos foraging.

In the spring, I look forward to Towhees, Thrushes, Robins, and other birds as the bounce back and forth, scratching and pecking for insects and worms.

Entertainment, and education.

All because of another one of'Nature's' other bounties.

One other way to enrich your soil and prevent erosion is to plant a cover crop and till them under in the spring.

Cover crops are usually along the line 'Winter Rye'.

Planted in late summer or early fall, the rye gets well established.

Rye produces its own nitrogen.

now, when tilled under, you not only have green organic matter to enrichen the soil, but all those nice nitrogen nodules go into the ground and feed your plants.

You can do this in annual flower beds as well as veggie gardens.

Yes, when we listen to, and follow nature, our gardens can be clean and healthy.

Free of chemicals.

I like that, don't you?

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

E. E. Cummings

Or, we can seek the one who created the light and the darkness (day and night) for us to enjoy.

And God said,
“Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Genesis 1:3-5

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

Back to Back Issues Page