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Autumn can be time for gardening too

September 28, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

My last couple of gardens have been such epic fails that this year, I didn't even try.

The decision to take a gardening sabbatical was not an easy on. My youngest children enjoy turning the soil, sowing the seeds, monitoring the growth and — most of all — reaping the harvest.

But we were away quite a bit the last couple of summers. We didn't arrange for a friend to tend to watering and most of the crops were burned dry by the sun. Funny how the good dies off, but the weeds live on. What little harvest there was was practically overcome by undesirable growth.

Successful gardeners always make gardening sound easier and less expensive than it is. They say, "Oh you 'just' need this and you 'just' do that." It sounds cheap and simple.

In reality, I don't own my own tiller so there is that obstacle to getting started. Then I factor in the costs of good soil, seeds or plants, tools, fertilizer, weed killers, pest repellents, fencing and so on, and "just" becomes an eye-popping "ouch" that I definitely should have budgeted for.

Then there are my few little flower beds. Time and lack of attention have taken a toll. The daffodils and lilies seem to be fewer and fewer and oddly placed. I asked one of my kids to trim my hollyhocks back and instead, he deemed it better to pull them. Hello yet another odd void.

Still, I wonder if spring 2013 could be the year to do it right. Or at least a little better. To see a couple well-managed beds of flowers burst through the soil in spring would be glorious. The idea of fresh summer produce growing in my yard, bringing it in the back door and digging in keeps my dreams alive. And hearing the disappointment in my children's voices when they share with their friends the total output of our last dinky patch of dirt rouses me to the challenge.

"My mom says we'll try again next year," they say, wishful but not convinced.

I recently came across someone who promised me that a little effort now could make a significant difference in the spring. I am dubious but somewhat desperate, so I listened. I want this.

Here are ideas for taking a few manageable steps in the right direction.

  Shop owners looking to make room for pumpkins and Christmas trees are selling trees, shrubs and perennials at clearance prices. Fall, I'm told, is a preferable time of year for planting and transplanting. Planting young upstarts in soil that is still on the warm side supports roots growth and circumvents dangers of dry summer heat.

  Water, dig and divide mature perennial bulbs and replant them in desired locations.

  Buy mulch at season's end prices and apply to beds to retain ground moisture and protect plants.

  Care for and put away lawn care equipment by removing dirt and rust, oiling and sharpening. Change mower filters, fill the gas tank and add stabilizer.

  Get end-of-season deals on garden tools and equipment that needs to be replaced. Now is also a good time to hunt yard sales and flea markets for used lawn mowers, weed trimmers and maybe even tillers.

  Build a simple compost pile using raked leaves, pumpkins, yard debris and leftover decorative bales of straw.

I don't know that I'll get to all these things. But whatever I do manage will make the prospects for a spring garden that much brighter.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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