A GROWING CONCERN: Fall cleanup? You better de-leaf it

I BELIEVE IT is safe to say the weather has changed. The fall rain pattern has started.

Regardless of what happens with the sun and day temperatures, the length of daylight, its angle and the dew points are now such that our prime growing days are behind us.

That does not mean, however, that your garden should be less than prime; nor does that mean one should start and finish fall clean-up.

We will shortly address to what extent you should begin garden cleanup — which is really a gradual, slow cut back from now until December to March — but for now let’s address your new fall ornamental beds, pots and containers.

If you recall we established how the whole country plants from May until September. We also know, because of my ceaseless repetition, that the Peninsula is an ideal place for year-round gardening.

And now, again, we will learn (and buy) why ornamental kale and cabbage are the cornerstones to a knockout monsoon season bed.

First, I have learned while pushing these incredible plants, that there is a resistance, and almost hostile dislike, by some for these rain-resistant wonders.

In discussions with quite a few of you anti-kaleites, I have identified the two main reasons for their dislike and one reason observed on my own. Let’s go with that last reason first — ignorance.

Or to quote the well-known phrase,” If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.”

I strongly believe that ornamental kale and cabbage are like those strange foods you never could bring yourself to try, then finally through some pressure you did and now love them.

They grow on you

Ornamental kale and cabbage can truly grow on you.

To their detractors, to their smell and dead leaves are the battle cries.

Well, guess what: We can rid both of these problems with one function — cabbage leaving.

All plants need their maintenance care. For kales and cabbages, it’s stripping those bottom, large, dead or ever-so-slightly yellowed leaves.

Now with kales and cabbages this should be a weekly function. They are vigorously growing plants.

Their centers are chock-full of new leaves wanting to burst forward with color all winter long. That is why I must have them.

These plants compensate that robust growth on top with a reduction of energy sucking big leaves on the bottom, a common plant characteristic.

The beauty of this trait for you is that 85 to 90 percent of the smell is in the old dying leaves. So clean the leaves and eliminate the smell.

As gardeners we should all cherish those tasks that kill two birds with one stone.

So with this information and my knowing that I must dismount the high-horse and move on to some new thing to nag you, please buy some of these plants.

As to your yard and fall cleanup, few tasks do more damage to your plants then a premature fall cleanup.

Fewer things can damage kill your plant more than too severe of a cutback to ground level clean.

Since the rains are here, along with the lessening of sunny dry days, dead-heading is never more important than now.

In the sunlight and breeze, molds, mildews and fungi spread at a snail’s pace when compared to their rate now in rain-soaked, cloudy, cool weather.

This time of year these pests destroy not only the flower but also many times 80 percent or more of the plants.

So when we are talking fall cleanup, we are stressing the removal of all dead and dying material along with all old flower heads.

We are not, however, talking about down to the ground, “There-you-go-honey, the garden is done” butchery. The fall cut back or really the fall bed-down, is exactly that — a full bed down. It is a lot of work, but the returns are numerous.

Pruning is the secret

As we move through mid-fall, early mid-fall to be exact, your various herbaceous plants begin to discolor, die back, go to seed or look poor.

The secret is to prune them back as these cycles happen.

So the same plant may be cut two, three, four, even five times or more.

The next thing to realize is few get cut back to ground level before late-late winter or the early spring trimester.

So regardless of your personal desire for the neat and prim look, it can be done now.

Especially in our mild, moderate winter weather where dormancy is never really firmly established and the hardest freeze usually comes in February, it is imperative you follow the slow cut back and natural plant covering as your line of defense.

As we move to winter a detailed description of the final cut will be given. For now, slow and steady is our course.

And I will conclude with a course. Since we now know we need some kales and cabbages, since spaces are appearing in the yard, because you have been admiring various beautiful fall foliage bushes and since you need some fall fertilizer, set a course to several local nurseries and greenhouses.

As a special bonus, most of these places are offering big discounts on trees, perennials, roses, bulbs and other selected plants.

On top of that, the weather is with you. There is no better time than the next two months for planting perennial, bulbs, bushes, shrubs and trees.

No better time than now.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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