The first week of November is when you have to face the freeze and admit the party is over. It is time to cut back chrysanthemums and also cut dahlias, cannas and lilies to the ground.
Uproot the wilted coleus, petunias and other annuals and add them to your compost pile.
Don’t have a compost pile? Find a plastic garbage bag instead. The steps below will turn garden trash and a bushel of fallen leaves into lumpy leaf mold that will come in handy this spring.
Here are the steps for compost in a bag:
1. Find a large black plastic garbage bag — you need plenty of room to layer leaves, soil and grass clippings.
2. Fill the bottom half of the bag with brown leaves. Small leaves work best such as those from Japanese maples but you can use big leaf maple leaves if you mow them over or chop them into smaller pieces. Avoid cedar and evergreen leaves — they take too long to break down.
3. Fill the middle layer of the bag with uprooted annuals such as geraniums, petunias and marigolds. You need to leave some soil clinging to the roots.
4. Add some soil from the garden — at least one shovelful to introduce the living soil organisms that will chomp the leaves all winter. You can substitute a layer of compost or aged manure instead of the soil. If you see any earthworms while you’re digging for soil, toss them into the bag as well. Earwigs, sow bugs, beetles and even slugs help to break down the leaves and turn them into leaf mold.
5. Next add a layer of grass clippings or some other finely chopped green material. At least three inches of green on top of the soil and uprooted annuals. Top off any extra space with additional brown leaves. A great way to do this is to rake the leaves from the lawn, adding bits of grass into the fallen leaves from the raking process.
6. Now that the bag is loosely filled, tie it closed and get good and mad. It is time to poke air holes all over the stuffed bag with a screw driver or butter knife. No need to get carried away and use a sharp knife – plastic bags are easy to puncture.
7. Your bag is now filled with green and brown plant material and it is inoculated with living organisms from the soil or compost and should take just a few months to decay. Store the plastic bag out of sight under an outdoor table or in a garden shed.
8. In spring you can drag out your plastic bags, open them up and spread the magic of leaf mold on top of weeds or mix the leaf mold into planting holes. The mixture will not look like soil and it will not look like compost. It will look more like partially decomposed leaves. You will see veins of white, moldy ribbons running through the leafy matter. This is good. Leaf mold is a spring tonic for poor soil and helps all soil hold more moisture and nutrients. You can even mix a few handfuls of leaf mold into your potting soil at planting time and enjoy the benefits of happier plants.
9. Another option is to wait until June or July and then spread the contents of the bag on top of your rhododendrons, perennials and alongside your vegetables. Leaf mold helps to cool and shade the soil so that when the August heat arrives your plants will require less water.