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Prep now for a green spring

Clean out diseased or infected plants to protect next year’s crop

The unmistakable chill in the air has started to creep upon us and that means frost will soon kill off most plants in our gardens and yards.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has some great advice to get your garden clean and yard tidy while still retaining shelter and nutrients for nature’s helpers.

According to almanac.com, the first step is to get those vegetable gardens cleaned out. It’s important to get all the dead crops out, especially any that are infested with disease or pests. Be sure not to use any diseased or infested plants in your compost or leave them in the soil as this can contaminate next year’s crops.

Pull all the weeds you can now so you have less to pull at planting time and turn over your soil to expose pests to birds and the cooler air. Many gardeners cover their beds with organic mulch, carpet, cardboard, tarps, or landscaping fabric to prevent weed growth.

If you have perennial flowers, wait as long as possible to cut them back as many beneficial bugs rely on old plants for shelter. For most perennials, the Farmer’s Almanac recommends not cutting back until spring when new growth begins sprouting.

If you see a clump of perennials starting to die out in the center, they may benefit from being divided. Use a sharp spade to dig around and remove the plant from the ground, then use a spade or knife to divide the plant into smaller groups. Replant each group with space between to give them room to grow.

The Farmer’s Almanac recommends leaving grass a bit longer in the winter as many enriching bugs burrow at the base of lawns. Setting your mower blades a bit higher also helps protect your soil while still leaving your lawn crisp.

As lawns become covered with falling leaves, you may be tempted to just bag them up and throw them out, but the leaves can provide many benefits to nature and your greenery. The Farmer’s Almanac recommends cleaning off paths and sidewalks to avoid slippery hazards, but in other places, let the leaves be as much as you can. You can rake leaves into piles out of the way, even under shrubs or into the corners of your lawn. Many invaluable pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and caterpillars will use those leaves as over-winter habitats as long as the leaves are left whole and not shredded.

Leaves also make a great addition to compost. Shredded leaves, non-infested dead foliage, and weeds break down to make a great natural fertilizer for your next crop. Adding shredded leaves, compost, or rotted manure to your soil after your garden is cleared will enrich your soil and make it more fertile for next year. Mix the organic matter lightly into the first few inches of soil to avoid the need to work the soil too much come spring.

If you want to do some fall planting, The Farmer’s Almanac recommends bushes and hedges and spring-flowering bulbs. At this time of year, the ground is still warm enough for shrub plants to establish and will reward you with new growth in the spring. Spring-flowering bulbs, also called fall bulbs, must be planted by late October or early November These flowers will provide early food for pollinators at the beginning of spring.

Last but certainly not least, The Farmer’s Almanac reminds gardeners to turn off water and drain hoses, clean tools before storing, and bring ceramic and clay pots inside to avoid cracking from freezing temperatures.

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