by Rick Vuyst
Less is more in the garden during the month of October. Foliage puts on a natural show before winter, and as it falls, feeds the earth as natural organic matter. Cool temperatures, vibrant sights and warm soil make this the best month of the year for landscape projects; roses still bloom, maples blaze in color and flowering shrubs vie for our attention. Viburnums, Fothergilla, Itea, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Witchhazel, blueberries and Japanese maple are flowering shrubs that save the best for last in a triumphant grand finale right before the snow knocks on our doors. In woodland areas, foliage nourishes the earth and provides a natural floor. In our urban landscapes, we tend to bag up leaves and dispose of them, but those leaves have nutritional value and provide textural tilth to the land. The structure of our soils can benefit from the simple natural resource of spent foliage and will result in a reduction of plant disease down the road.
It’s estimated that American’s throw away as much as 25 percent of their food on an annual basis. Some of these food scraps provide wonderful “green” material for your compost pile. The key to a successful compost pile is to have a good combination of both “browns” or carbon (dried leaves, brush or bark), and “greens,” or vegetation (grass clippings, food scraps). If it gets smelly, you might not have enough browns or there could be a lack of oxygen in the pile. A good ratio of carbon to green materials with proper moisture levels turned from time to time with a pitchfork will provide the black gold you can use to help your garden thrive in the coming year.
A simple way to compost is something we call “passive composting” or “lasagna gardening.” Using this method, newsprint (black and white — no color photos) is placed on the ground to suffocate grass and other vegetation. Leaves, preferably ground up first by a lawn mower, are placed on top of the newspaper. Finally, soil is placed on top of the leaves to keep them in place. This passive setting will “cook” under the cover of snow throughout the winter and in spring can be tilled into the earth. This approach results in bumper crops of earthworms— a good sign of healthy soil and natural nutrient suppliers.
While you prepare the soil for next year’s landscape, you can find plant material on sale during the months of October and November. Trench the plants, pot and all, in an unused area of the garden. Come spring time, pull the pots out of the soil. Remove the roots of the plant from pot and plant them in the rich organic soil. In autumn, the sunken pots are temporary staging to get the roots below soil level. If left in the pots above ground level in winter, they will most likely die due to root temperature tolerances.