It’s not time to put all the garden tools away just yet. Cleaning out gardens and flower beds, raking leaves, spreading mulch, planting trees and garlic and feeding the lawn may be on the agenda. This might be the year to consider taking classes to become a Master Gardener or adventure into creating a no-till garden. Then you can settle down and wait for the seed catalogues to arrive, let nature do its winter work and anticipate what the new year will bring.
What to do with leaves?
Raking, bagging and throwing away autumn leaves is tantamount to cheating your garden of potential nutrients. Instead, consider one of these ways to maximize what trees have spent months creating and nourishing into little reservoirs of energy.
Compost — Especially those leaves that have been chopped or shredded (you can use a chipper/shredder, a leaf vacuum or a lawn mower to shred the leaves) are dream additions to the compost pile. Leaves are a great source of "brown," or high-carbon material for the compost.
Alternate layers of shredded leaves with the regular green materials you'd add to your compost pile (such as vegetable and fruit scraps, weeds, grass clippings and plants that you pull during your fall garden clean-up) and let it sit over the winter. Aerate or turn the pile when you think of it, and by planting time you'll have finished compost.
Make Leaf Mold — Leaf mold is a wonderful soil amendment that is made from nothing more than fall leaves with the occasional layer of garden soil or finished compost added. The pile sits for about a year, and when it's finished you have the perfect amendment for vegetable and flower gardens, as well as a rich addition to potting soils.
Mulch — Once you've shredded your leaves, they can be used as an organic mulch in flower beds, vegetable gardens, under trees and shrubs or in container gardens. Simply apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded leaves to your beds, keeping the mulch from directly touching the stems and trunks of your plants. The mulch will help the soil retain moisture, stay cool, and limit weed seed germination. As a bonus, the leaves will add nutrients to the soil as they break down, and the worms and soil microorganisms will work on them as well, resulting in lighter, fluffier soil over time.
Save them for spring — When spring comes and you are busy weeding, deadheading spent blooms and pruning again, you will be adding all of those "greens" to the compost pile. The best compost comes from layering green and brown material. Hoard a garbage bag or two in your garage over the winter so you can dump a bag of leaves on the compost instead of shredding newspaper.
Mow them – don’t rake — If you simply run over leaves with a mower (with the wheels set at their highest setting), they'll break down over the winter, providing your soil with nutrients and shading the soil, which will result in fewer lawn weeds to worry about next year. Do this once a week until the leaves are finished falling, but the shredded layer should be no more than two inches deep, which could smother the grass.
Why plant cover crops?
When a crop is done and harvested, Darrin Culp, horticulturist and organic farmer with Jordan Rainwater at their Bellweather Farms, plants cover crops, because they suppress weeds, enrich soil and help control pests and diseases. In the plot where garlic plants have been dug at their farm during the summer, in October he plants Austrian winter pea and winter grain. Hairy vetch is another fall cover crop he plants, and buckwheat and chickling vetch are used as cover crops in summer. In the spring, he will till the cover crops back into the soil about two weeks before he wants to plant, enriching the soil by nitrogen fixation.
Can garlic be planted now?
September through November is the best time to plant garlic for summer harvesting. Its roots develop in the fall and winter, and “it needs that period of chilling in the ground,” said organic farmer Darrin Culp, who planted his garlic just two weeks ago at Bellweather Farms in the local area. He added that as long as the weather is still mild, it is OK to plant.
Varieties Culp planted this year include Inchelium Red and early Asian Tempest, both softnecks, and Transylvanian, German extra hard, Chesnock Red and Georgian Crystal, all hardneck varieties.
Detailed instructions on how to plant garlic is available at the Oregon State Extension website at http://bit.ly/TuS2dk. Briefly, start with planting the garlic in full sun in well-drained soil. A sandy, clay loam soil is best. Plant cloves root side down, 2 inches deep and 2 to 4 inches apart in rows spaced 10 to 14 inches apart. Garlic can be lightly mulched to improve soil structure and reduce weeds. Garlic is rarely damaged by insects.
Start checking for mature cloves about late June. Harvest garlic when the head is divided into plump cloves and the skin covering the outside of the bulbs is thick, dry and papery.
Dig up, then allow the mature bulbs to dry in a shady, warm, dry and well-ventilated area for a few days. Then remove the tops and roots. Brush dirt off the bulbs. To braid garlic together, harvest it a bit earlier while leaves are green and supple.
Is it a good time to plant a tree?
“This is an excellent time to plant trees,” said John Bellon, superintendent and city forester with the city of Klamath Falls Parks Department. “Trees are going into dormancy right now, holding their resources to form buds for spring. Planting can be done as long as the ground is still not frozen and nurseries are still open providing stock.”
He recommends working with a nursery when selecting trees, and checking, as he does, whether the tree has become root bound in the pot, by pulling the tree out of the pot and examining the roots.
Trees planted now will start establishing roots, giving them a good start in the spring. Bellon stressed the importance of tree selection for a planting site, digging a hole the correct size for the tree, and especially providing water to newly planted trees periodically throughout the winter.
Two websites Bellon recommends for detailed information on how to choose, plant and give new trees their best start are:
What is no-till gardening?
No-till gardening (sometimes called lasagna gardening) could be called no- till farming, because it refers to the elimination of conventional farming ways of plowing, compacting, degrading and eroding farmland, market gardens and sometimes community gardens by the use of machines.
This is the time of year to start a no-till garden, using autumn leaves as one of the layers, which make excellent mulch.
"The crux of no-till gardening is to pile on enough mulch so that weeds don't
germinate and grow up through it," said Barb Fick, a horticulturist with the
Oregon State University Extension Service, who has kept her large vegetable garden viable with the no-till method for years.
Her method for establishing a new no-till garden in the fall or winter starts with finding a sunny spot and outlining where the new beds will be. Use a garden hose or rope if the borders are curved. Because you won't be tilling, you won't need to confine your garden design to straight lines.
Be sure to lay out the vegetable beds so you can easily reach any part of the bed from a path while kneeling. It's important not to step into the bed and compact the soil. If you put your new no-till garden into an existing lawn and want the paths to remain as grass, don't forget to make them wide enough for your mower.
After that, start heaping on the mulch. If you use leaves, grass clippings or straw, you might need as much as eight to 10 inches of them, Fick said. If you use cardboard or newspaper as mulch, you'll need less of it. You'll want to add a couple of inches of organic matter over it though.
Over time, the mulch layers you keep adding will help loosen up the clay soil. The soil formed by the addition of so much organic matter will likely be loose, full of earthworms and teeming with healthy microbes that make nutrients available to your plants.
When you're ready to plant in the spring, push aside the mulch layer where you want to put your seeds or transplants. For the first year or so, you may need to dig out old roots and add topsoil or compost in the hole where you want to plant. An advantage to no-till is that you turn over a small amount of soil only where you'll plant seeds or starts. This keeps old weed seeds down in the soil, making it harder for them to germinate.
What are garden debris rules?
Free yard debris disposal days for Klamath County occur in fall and spring. The fall 2012 event was on Nov. 3. To watch for the spring event, usually offered in May, go to the county’s website at http://bit.ly/TuTpsz and click on “Free events” in the box on the right for dates and locations where it is permitted to bring yard debris.
For pickup of yard debris (leaves, grass, small twigs) by Waste Management on regular pickup days for your area, you are allowed for free to leave out three 32-gallon bags weighing no more than 30 pounds, or a single 32-gallon trash can with a maximum weight of 60 pounds.
What are local rules for open burning?
If you want to know if it is OK to burn outside (also known as open burning), call 541-882-BURN (2876) or go to klamathair.org.
The 2012 fall open burn window set by the Klamath County Environmental Health Department for residents living in the county’s air quality zone started on Oct. 26 and will end at 5 p.m. Sunday. The next chance to burn will be in the spring.
Open burning is only allowed on “GREEN” days. However, you still need to call the burn advisory number listed above. Those planning to burn should call 541-882-BURN the morning of the day they plan to burn to have the most up-to-date air quality advisories and ensure burning is allowed that day.
Some restrictions include:
- The size of the fire should be no larger than 6 feet in diameter and no taller than 4 feet.
- You can only burn from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fires should be extinguished by 5 p.m.
- You should only burn yard trash. This means pine needles, tree branches, leaves, etc. You can't burn garbage, tires or plastic.
- There must be a six-foot clear area surrounding the base of the pile and the pile must be at least 20 feet from combustible fences and buildings.
- The wind must be between 4 and 10 miles per hour (a light breeze). Wind speed information may be obtained at 541-883-8127.
- The person conducting any burning is responsible for damage and the cost of an out-of-control burn as well as traffic problems and other hazards caused by the smoke.
Fertilize the grass
The lawn needs a good feeding in the fall, to encourage root growth for a spring surge. A well-fed lawn is healthier, which means it has a better root system to combat heat, cold, drought, mowing, foot traffic and other stresses.
Fall brings back ideal conditions for your lawn. Cool nights, ample rainfall and morning dew are just about as good as it gets for grass. Now the lawn is ready to grow again, and is looking for the nutrients it needs to recover from summer damage. Some experts will say this is the single most important lawn feeding of the year. Apply your final feeding right before the winter months, when grass is prepping for a winter nap. This will strengthen roots and increase nitrogen storage for an early spring green up and a healthier lawn next year.