A Baker's Dozen of Things you MUST (or should) do this Fall
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• But wait to plant Spring bulbs. In most of the Mid-Atlantic region, Spring blooming bulbs should be planted between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Note: Deer, rabbits, voles, and Evil Squirrels will gleefully dine on tulips, as the plants and their bulbs are delicious and nutritious. If you are varmit infested, think about planting daffodils instead. Nothing bothers daffodils (plants or bulbs), which also 'naturalize' (spread and prosper) over the years.
• If you live in a region with a markedly different climate than mine (which is not my fault), plant your Spring bulbs earlier the further North you are (at least six weeks before your soil freezes hard), and a little later between PA and the Carolinas. If you and your fellow warm winter climate cowards put on parkas as soon as it's less than sixty degrees outside, be sure to purchase 'pre-chilled' bulbs from your local nursery or garden center; or a catalog that specifies this odd adaption.
• If you plan to outdoor decorate for Fall, see if you can find corn stalks instead of the usual dreary pumpkins and hay bales. Harvested corn stalks are very attractive, provide something nifty and seasonal to look at up high, and can serve as the "shredded brown" material in your compost bin or pile. (After you shred them, of course.)
• But don't neglect your Fall leaves! Although many people still foolishly pay to have theirs hauled away in SPBs, shredded fall leaves are the ultimate 'brown material' in a compost pile; teeming with nutrients and biological life. Plus, they are one of the few materials that you can compost alone and end up with beautiful Black Gold, although adding spent coffee grounds to the mix makes the compost faster and better--without attracting vermin.
• Speaking of vermin, do not add vegetable waste to an open compost pile. It offers little in the way of finished compost nutrition and attracts mice, rats, voles, racoons, groundhogs, and other creatures you do NOT want to attract. Get a worm bin for your kitchen garbage instead. The red wigglers which live inside your bin will turn that otherwise useless garbage into phabulous plant fertilizing worm castings. Makes a great gift!
• Yes, the leaves that make up the vast bulk of your raw ingredients MUST be shredded, or they'll just mat down and take years to produce decent compost.
• You can shred them excellently with a bagging lawnmower, UNLESS you foolishly have your lawn treated with herbicides and/or 'weed and feed'. If you do, the resulting compost will kill many--if not all--of the plants in your summer garden. But if your lawn is UNtreated, be sure to do the opposite and collect the leaves ON your lawn; the resulting mix of dry brown shredded leaves and Nitrogen-rich grass clippings makes perfect compost and makes it fast.
• Yes, that also means you should not compost grass clippings from a treated lawn. Instead, mulch the compromised clippings back into the lawn to feed the grass naturally and not kill anything.
• Whatever you do with them, do NOT burn your leaves. Burning eliminates their fertilizing and composting potential, pollutes the air and makes the polar ice caps melt even faster. Give your unwanted leaves to a gardening friend, shred them into your lawn with a mulching mower or put them out for collection and subsequent composting. Visit your local government's website for collection details and timing.
• If you grew peppers this year (and if not, why not?!) consider bringing your best plants inside for the winter. Peppers--both hot and sweet--are perennials that can live many years if protected from temperatures below fifty degrees. (Forget about actual "frost"; these tropical plants have no sense of humor about trying to survive the forties.) If the plants are not in pots, pot them up NOW; don't wait until the last minute. Rinse each plant well with SHARP streams of water to eradicate aphids and leave them outside for a few days in their pots. Then rinse them again with SHARP streams of water. Wipe the pots with a wet washcloth and check the bottoms for hitchhiking slugs or snails.
• Peppers indoors: It's all about the LIGHT! Positioned directly under a four tube shoplight fitted with four-foot-long bulbs is ideal. Keep the tops of the plants as close to the tubes as possible and they'll reward you by flowering and fruiting all winter!