Thursday, November 20, 2014

Opportunities for Productive Activity in the Yard Continue

After the pansies are planted, weeds banished from the lawn, old mulch raked away from under the ornamental shrubs and fresh mulch spread in its place, what is left for the outdoor-work-loving homeowner to do? It turns out that there are plenty of excuses to be outside on beautiful winter days ahead!

The UGA Extension publication "Fall Gardening: A Collection of Information and Resources" includes some activities that should already have been completed back in September and October, such as planting fall vegetable crops and treating fire ant mounds, but it also includes activities for November and December.

These later-season activities include managing fallen leaves, improving vegetable garden soil, and taking care of the tools you rely on all the rest of the year.

Managing Fallen Leaves

County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese suggests rounding up all those leaves and, instead of bagging them to be  placed on the curb for hauling away, processing them to make mulch for your gardens. He says, "Large, whole leaves tend to get blown around and don’t stay within their landscape bed boundaries. The key to successfully using leaves for mulch is to shred them with a lawn mower, bagging attachment or leaf shredder so that they won’t blow away."

Newly planted trees and shrubs (planting is another great activity for the winter!) will benefit from having this shredded leaf mulch spread in a "donut" shape around their bases. Pugliese explains: "Mulch will help roots of newly planted trees and shrubs acclimate to the cold faster while they are becoming established this winter."

Improving Vegetable Garden Soil

Extension Vegetable Specialist Bob Westerfield says that, when he first started gardening, he used to just let his garden soil "lay idle throughout the fall and winter. I now know that is about the worst thing a gardener can do."

He says that leaving residues of old crops in the garden can provide a safe harbor for pests and diseases, so removing those is an essential task for gardeners who are hoping for successful crops next year. In addition, Westerfield says that this is the time to really pay attention to the soil and take additional steps that can help build the soil and decimate pests.

These are some steps Westerfield takes to improve his garden soil:
"If it isn’t too wet, I till the garden to expose any insects, nematodes and soil pathogens to the cool, dry weather. This is a perfect time to add amendments such as compost or other organic matter like manures. Sometimes I spread fallen tree leaves over the garden and till them in. They break down quickly into rich organic matter. Shred the leaves first under the lawn mower or in a chipper and they will break down even faster."
Protecting Your Tools

UGA News Editor Sharon Dowdy's section about taking care of tools pulls together suggestions from  Extension Specialists Bob Westerfield and Tony Johnson. Westerfield and Johnson agree that taking care of tools is important, partly because tools can be expensive to replace, and partly because a good once-over now can reduce unpleasant surprises in spring, of finding broken handles, dulled edges, or rust damage.

Here is part of the checklist they've provided:
Tiller and Mower
  • Empty the garden tiller of fuel or add a fuel stabilizer.
  • Check the spark plugs, change the oil and clean the air filter.
  • Clean the underside of the mower’s deck with a pressure washer and scrape off any old grass and debris.
Shovels, Hoes and Other Tools
  • Thoroughly clean all tools with soap and water.
  • Sharpen blades.
  • Clean metal parts with steel wool, wipe dry and apply a light coat of household oil.
  • To save time in the spring, sharpen tool edges.
  • Smooth wooden handles by sanding them with sand paper. Then coat handles in linseed oil or paint them to preserve the wood.
  • Store all rakes with the teeth pointing down. Stepping on an exposed rake can be dangerous for children and adults.
Dowdy's section of the "Fall Gardening" publication also includes Westerfield and Johnson's maintenance suggestions for irrigation systems, tomato cages, and sprayers.

For the complete checklist, and for complete sections about fallen leaves and vegetable garden care, see the Fall Gardening publication.