To do this week
* Celebrate the arrival of autumn next Tuesday by doing some fall cleaning. Start by cutting back the diseased leafy stems of perennials.
* Cut off spent annuals at ground level rather than pulling them out of the ground. Roots left in the ground will decompose and contribute some organic matter to the soil.
* Shop for bulbs at the earliest opportunity to get the best choices. Select the largest bulbs of each variety desired. Large bulbs produce the best flowers since they have more stored food than do smaller bulbs.
* Begin planting daffodil bulbs. They need more time for root development than other bulbs, so they should be planted first.
* Cut down corn stalks, chop them up as best as you can, and bury them in the garden or add them to the compost heap. Don’t leave the stalks intact since corn borers overwinter in the stalks.
* Cut down the shoots or ferns of asparagus only after they have been killed by frost. As long as they are green they’ll keep producing and storing food for next year’s crop.
* Rake or mow down mushrooms that come up in the lawn but check under the mushrooms first to be sure gnomes are not hiding there.
* Apply repellents on trees and shrubs to deter deer. Natural vegetation is getting a little tough as the growing season winds down and deer will soon be looking to munch on the more succulent vegetation in home landscapes.
* Cover the heads of sunflowers with cheesecloth if you don’t want to share the seeds with feathered friends, or with birds for that matter. The seeds are ready to harvest when the heads are completely brown. The heads may be cut prematurely and allowed to mature by hanging in a dry airy location, but leave about a foot of the stem attached when beheading the sunflowers.
Speaking of “contributing organic matter to the soil,” that is exactly what is at the top of my list of priorities for the vegetable garden from now until the ground freezes. Okay, harvesting remaining crops is up there, too, but I’m wasting no time in preparing soil for next spring’s planting. As crops finish, I pull up the multitude of weeds that took advantage of my lax efforts at control, curse them a little and then toss them on a weed pile carefully hidden behind some shrubs. It’s not good advertising to make a public display of your weed pile. Then, remnants of vegetable crops get turned under, along with organic mulches that were applied during the summer. I’ll also spread compost, grass clippings or shredded leaves over the soil before turning it. These organic materials will decompose over winter and enhance the structure and fertility of the soil. Another good way to boost the organic content of garden soil is to plant a cover crop of winter rye or oats. Do this before the end of the month.