The 2013 fall season began Sunday afternoon (Sept. 22) at about 15 minutes before 5. From this point, days get shorter and nights longer leading into winter. Many like me who still have a long yard and garden to-do list prefer working outdoors in autumn when temperatures are cool and humidity low (that holds true as long as cold weather doesn’t come too early and persist).
Deadheading can keep late-season flowering plants like tall phlox and cannas blooming until the first killing frost. Migrating hummingbirds keep coming through the end of September to feeders for sugar water and to blooming plants for natural nectar. I delay all out garden cleanup until October to accommodate my flying friends.
When debris is removed from flower and vegetable beds, spent leaves and stalks get chopped up for compost. Tree leaves make up the bulk of my compost mix. Dry organic materials like leaves supply carbon. Grass clippings and vegetable scraps from the kitchen contribute nitrogen. Classic compost proportions call for about 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Since our property is wooded we have lots of leaves. I use the lawn mower to chop and gather leaves instead of raking then dump leaves from the mower bag in mounds in the woods.
By the next summer, they are compost. Learn more and see for yourself various ways to compost. Visit UT Gardens-Crossville Discovery Gardens at the University of Tennessee Plateau Research and Education Center, 320 Experiment Station Rd., Crossville, TN 38571 (484-0034). Take the chipped pathway to the left of the sign post. The compost demo is past the raised bed area and across from the newly constructed Kinder Garden.
The September page of my 2013 "Old Farmer’s Almanac Gardening Calendar" features the last verse from the poem "Autumn Fires" by the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894):
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
Time changed my opinion on fires in the fall. In my younger days, I was all in favor of burning leaves. Actually, what I favored as a child were toasted marshmallows. Mother would purchase a big bag to enlist our help raking leaves. Other kids in the neighborhood brought rakes from home so they, too, could get in on the fun. Everybody who raked leaves for the bonfire got marshmallows. Now, as a supporter of sustainable gardening, I wouldn’t dream of burning leaves. Organic materials are much too valuable to waste.
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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.