David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Easy Steps for Fall Clean Up
Grab the kids, a few tools, trash bags and cook some compost
Getting dirty is easy. Cleaning up is harder. Few people enjoy cleaning. It seems to take hours, while making the mess takes much less time.
The same way applies to your yard and garden.
Planting is nothing. Fertilizing and watering is hardly anything. It’s all the remnants of everything that nature did and we assisted that comes back to haunt us 10 fold.
Leaves fall from the trees, usually in haphazard fashion except for the glorious ginkgo that drops everything within a week. Frost kills most of the garden plants, turning once upright leaves into mush, sort of like cooked spinach.
Some gardeners tend to be procrastinators, putting off until spring what could be done now. Or should be done now.
Our excuse is that we provide seeds for the migrating or remaining birds. We provide hiding places for the ladybugs that we prefer remain outside instead of invading our homes. We mimic nature in allowing plants to decay right where they are, enriching the soil with organic matter.
And there’s nothing worse than a snow-covered winter landscape that is flat. Leaving plants gives you some bumps and lumps in the yard that stimulates the brain into wondering just what was there last year.
On the other hand debris left until spring provides ideal hideouts for over wintering insects and diseases that we really don’t want. Weeds can provide seeds for next year’s unwelcomed visitors.
Furthermore, what you put off today will come back to bite you next year, unless of course you plan on moving.
Start by getting everything together, which includes the rakes, pruners, saws, tarps, mower and kids.
First, carefully remove the dead plants or plant parts. Encourage the children NOT to have throwing fights with rotten tomatoes and apples, though provide these words from a safe distance.
Clear out the garden of the dead plants. Chop them in smaller pieces, or throw them in the middle of the yard where a sharp lawn mower can reduce them in size.
If plants are heavy seed bearers, and you don’t want seeds everywhere, cut off the dead flowers and drop them in a sack.
Leaves can be mowed to reduce in size and filter between grass blades. If you have too many to allow to decompose where they lie, mow them before bagging. The bags will be heavier, but you won’t need as many.
If you’re out in the rural areas, you may just allow nature to blow the leaves to another location. That’s okay as long as the resting place isn’t a neighbor’s yard.
Most of the garden debris can be composted, though if you don’t plan on turning your compost pile regularly, consider throwing diseased plants and parts into a garbage bag for disposal. Another alternative is to dig a hole and bury the diseased debris if practical.
Some folks have the ability to burn yard waste without choking out their family, friends and neighbors. If you opt for that route, consider taking the ash and applying it to the yard and garden in a thin layer. Make sure you burn just plant material.
For the rest of us, a compost pile makes the most sense, but may be impractical if space is limited. If not, all the leaves and dead plants can turn into rich compost that’ll increase the organic matter content in our gardens in a year or two.
If you really want compost but not all the potential hassles, consider dumping everything in large black plastic bags, throwing in some soil, and wetting everything thoroughly. Trust me - it’s easier to wet everything AFTER you have moved the plastic bags to their resting place.
Place the plastic bags behind the garage or shed, but where they’ll get the winter sunlight. If all goes well, by next spring lots of the leaves and debris will have been cooked by the winter sun and you should have quasi-compost. It’s better than nothing.
And from experience, make sure the bags are marked with a big “Not Trash” sign. Otherwise, on trash day, they may be missing.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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