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Tips to get rid of those leaves

November 01, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

Everyone loves the fall colors in our forest and yards. Some trees are spectacular in their colored leaves. Then the leaves fall to our lawns and we have to do something with them. What should you do?

To me, the best option is to run the lawn mower over them and chop them up and blow them back on the lawn to decay into your turf. This is also the best process because you are returning nutrients to the lawn.

This works best if you have a mulching mower and smaller trees, so you are not trying to mow too many leaves to be handled by the lawn.

A second choice might be to run over the lawn with a bagging mower and bag the leaves to be added to your compost pile or your garden. The mower shreds the leaves, which reduces the bulk of the material you are handling. This method also mixes some grass clippings with the grass, so if you compost or add them to your garden they will break down quicker.

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If you don't have a bagging mower, you can rake your leaves and add them to your compost pile to make next year's compost. You can also spread them over your vegetable garden and till them into the soil so they will decay and add organic matter.

A lazy man's way of handling the leaves is to bag them up and put the bags in a corner of your yard and leave them there for the winter. Use cheap bags, which might break down earlier and let water into the top of the bags. This encourages the breakdown of the leaves to start.

Then next year when you plant your garden, you have a good material to use as mulch around your plants like tomatoes, squash and pumpkins. If you don't want to leave them in bags, you can stockpile them in compost bins or in a shallow pile somewhere out of sight.

If you live in the right area, you can bag your leaves and take them to the curb. Then people like me come along and pick up your leaves and take them home because we don't have enough of our own leaves for compost. Many townships and boroughs also have composting operations. They will collect your leaves to be composted, then give away the compost to residents.

One thing you don't want to do to burn your leaves. It is not an environmentally friendly way to dispose of leaves.

Overwintering

flowering bulbs

When summer draws to a close, it's time to say goodbye to tender, summer-flowering bulbs such as canna lily, gladiolus, dahlia and tuberose begonia.

But University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Greg Stack suggested gardeners consider storing the underground parts (tubers and corms, rhizomes) during the winter so you can include them in the garden next year. "Because these are classified as tender bulbs, they need to be brought in right after a light frost has blackened their foliage," Stack said.

Storing summer-flowering bulbs is not difficult and can be very successful as long as some simple steps are taken to ensure the bulbs go into storage properly. Basically, the steps include proper digging, curing or air drying, and storage under proper conditions of temperatures and air circulation.

"Cannas are spectacular plants for both their foliage and flowers, so they are worth saving," Stack said. "These are among the easiest to store and the way they multiply ensures you will have a lot more the second year than the first year to replant in the garden."

· Canna lilies - After the first frost blackens the foliage, cut back the stems to about six inches.

Carefully dig the rhizome clump out of the ground and leave the soil attached. Try to avoid cutting or injuring the rhizomes if possible. Allow them to air dry for a few hours in the sun. "This air drying helps to callus over wounds that might have occurred in the digging process," Stack explained.

Put the clumps into crates or boxes that have good ventilation. If there is not a lot of soil attached, cover the rhizomes with peat moss. Place the crate in a basement, crawlspace or other dark, well-ventilated space where the temperature is around 50 degrees.

Check on them occasionally through the winter and if the rhizomes show signs of shriveling, moisten the peat slightly. In the spring the rhizomes can be cut apart, potted and started indoors about six weeks before the last frost in the spring.

· Dahlias - These form tuberous roots that are saved from one season to the next. After frost has blackened the stems, carefully dig the tubers. "They will look like very fat "thumbs" connected to a central point," he said. "Cut the stalk down to about four inches and allow the clump to air dry for a day or two. This will help callus over any injuries that occurred during digging."

Carefully brush away any soil. Do not wash or scrub the tubers. Place the tuberous roots in a well-ventilated box and use peat moss, sawdust or similar material to cover the roots and keep them from shriveling. Dahlias can be stored at 40 to 50 degrees.

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