10 Things to do with Autumn Leaves

10/30/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Fall, Pests, Trees, Uncategorized

maple autumn blazeAutumn Blaze Maple is the larger of the two red-leafed trees showing off right now, trees that are the pets of local gardeners. This is the hardiest of the shade-sized maple trees that also turn red in autumn. Think Canadian maple leaf or traditional red maple found in the Midwest, only this tree takes arid wind, blistering hot sun, and bad soils. Every yard should have at least one of these show stoppers. Because of its size this maple protects itself and the surrounding landscape with shade from summer’s heat. “Noticeably cooler” is the best description of the shade it creates. Long-lived, it prefers the dry side of thirsty when programmed into an irrigation system.

Flame Maple, the shorter of the two trees, will grow to 12 feet in height. All maples hang tough in the landscape, but Flame Maple is the toughest of the tough. It is so sturdy that it stands out even on the ridgeline landscapes exposed to full wind and sun. Like a sturdy Japanese maple each small leaf glows in shades of fire red, thus its name.

Gardening Secret – The optimal time to plant a new tree is as the weather cools to below 60 degrees, when leaves drop, and dormancy is reached. Gardening books describe an exceptional success rate with fall planting of trees, but there is a secret to planting locally. With our dry winters each new planting will need a deep soak twice per month during the winter season. During bitter cold weather spells, make sure to water deeply just before a frigid system hits. A moist tree goes through winter like a champ, with a strong flush of new growth in spring. This simple insiders’ tip makes a huge difference in next spring’s growth.

Top 10 Things to do with Autumn Leaves

1. Make a big pile of leaves in your front yard — a BIG pile — and jump in it; even my dogs enjoy the action. When your neighbors stop and stare, invite them to join in the jumping. Include the grandchildren for lifelong memories for them and for you.

2. Run your mower back and forth through a layer of leaves then use the broken up leaves as mulch over your perennial garden.

Maple Armstrong in Autumn red3. If you don’t have trees to drop leaves, contact your city or county to find out if there is a leaf composting project in your area. Find out when you can start picking up compost.

4. Take long walks around the neighborhood and make a mental note of very tidy yards with big trees. These people probably rake and bag their leaves. Plan to contact them and ask if you can have their leaves for your compost pile. The answer is almost always yes.

5. Make a scarecrow by stuffing leaves into old clothes — or even burlap bags, often available from a local coffee shop. Set the scarecrow in a lawn chair by your front door to amuse the mailman.

6. Fallen leaves provide winter cover for beneficial insects like lacewings and ground beetles. You can serve both your need for a neat garden and the insects’ need for winter homes by creating Refugio: make envelopes of chicken wire, fill them with fallen leaves and sticks, and place them in a sheltered location. Make your Refugio into creative shapes, and you have garden art, as well!

7. Collect the prettiest leaves and iron them between sheets of waxed paper. Mount on mat-board and frame them to enjoy year-round.

8. Pile leaves in the paths between your vegetable garden beds. They will provide a dry walking surface during snowy wet weather, and next spring you can rake the decomposed leaves into your planting areas.

9. Add fallen leaves to worm composting bins. They introduce key decomposers, such as springtails and microbes, to the worm bin ecosystem to help the worms do their jobs more effectively.

Jumping in Pile of leaves10. Use attractive fall leaves, nuts, acorns, branches with berries, and other fall garden treasures to make creative dining table centerpieces. Make place cards by writing dinner guests’ names on sturdy leaves using a gold or glitter pen. Now aren’t you excited to get out and face those wonderfully versatile autumn leaves? It’s an opportunity to enjoy perfect autumn weather the high country is famous for while you take care of a simple autumn chore.

Gophers have reemerged. Mama gopher has kicked the kids out of the nest and tiny pocket gophers are finding new places to dig in local gardens. Best control comes from using a zinc-based bait on this underground rat. After years of gopher killing, I’ve learned that the right tool to administer bait is really important. My tool of choice is a tee-handled ‘Gopher Applicator” designed by Lewis tools. The tool is beefy, a bit expensive, but really makes ridding the garden of pests a breeze. The newest inventor of gopher-killing tools is called the ‘Gopher Snake’. This easy to use tool allows the gardener to place bait deep into the rodents’ tunnels. It also is the tool of choice for combating ground squirrels, prairie dogs, pack rats, or any burrowing animals. It enables you to place zinc-based baits deep under patios, foundations, rock outcrops, and other hard-to-reach places where animals hide.

For a column dedicated to pest free gardening, refer to my February 22 article entitled, “Keep gophers from devastating the landscape”.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com or Facebook page www.facebook.com/WattersGardenCenter.