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Fall garden cleanup necessary task

The leaves of brown (red, yellow and even green) have tumbled down and raking them is a major fall job. Most years we have many pleasant days to accomplish this, but not this year.

Leaves are a wonderful mulching and composting material. As if we did not have enough of our own, my husband collects them from all over the neighborhood to cover our roses. In the spring, we run them through the shredder to layer with grass clippings in our compost pile. It is a dusty job, but worth it to speed up the composting process.

We enclose our rose bed with snow fencing. Before we add the leaves, I cut down the rose canes to 18-24 inches. The major pruning is left for spring. I try to pick off all of the diseased leaves and dust the plants with sulfur. Even though most of my roses now are hardy Canadians, I still go through this process and have been rewarded with large floriferous bushes.

Ideally, winter mulches should be applied after the ground has frozen, however when the leaves are so abundant we like to cover the roses. A period of warm weather could cause damage because of overheating, but three feet of leaves probably insulates in the cold.

Rainy weather has made it difficult to get the other fall chores done. Peony bushes need to be cut off at ground level and iris leaves cut back to two or three inches because these plants can harbor disease and insects. It is best to leave most other perennials standing, except for those that have had disease problems during the season. For instance, mildew infected phlox. Some perennials tend to self-seed more than desired, so I trim them back. Leave some seed heads for the birds, if you wish. Mums are not very hardy, so leave them standing in order to collect snow. Snow is the best mulching material. You may wait until spring to cut back clematis vines to the ground or to 4-6 inches. I prefer to cut them down in the fall, as the wind blows the vines and trellis making a loud scratching noise near my bedroom.

Get rid of all weeds and debris in the vegetable and flower gardens. This is important for disease prevention. You may wish to shred the fallen leaves with your mower and dig a 3-4-inch layer into your vegetable garden. The leaves will break down by next spring and improve the drainage of heavy clay soils.

Animals can be a real problem in the winter months. I put chicken wire fences around several shrubs to keep rabbits from damaging them. We have heavy wire enclosures around all of our young trees near the river to discourage the beavers. To protect trees and shrubs from deer, you would need at least a 5-foot enclosure. Tree wraps are not recommended as they can harm the plants (bugs move in). If you must use them, put them on in the fall and remove them in the spring.

Even on rainy days, you can work inside the garage. Empty the soil from all of your containers before you stow them. Clean and dry all of your tools and sharpen them if you have time. Be sure to detach the hoses from the faucets and allow them to drain. Keep dry pesticides in a cool, dry location. Liquids must not freeze, so bring them indoors if your garage is not heated.

After you have accomplished all of these chores, it is time to relax in front of a warm fire knowing that your garden has been tucked in for the winter. Now, if someone will just help me put up my Christmas lights!

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener always in search of new ideas.