Friday, November 12, 2010

Rake, Remember, Rest, and Renew

The rains of November are now upon us, but so far they have been tempered by a some days of gorgeous sunshine glistening off of colorful leaves and fruits. Case in point is the Beautyberry (Callicarpa) in my front garden, which has put on quite a show, and will continue until the last fruit is devoured by Robins and Stellar Jays in January. Thirty-three years ago this week, I arrived in Seattle with suitcase in hand in the pouring rain, with no idea I had found my lifetime home. So I love this time of year no matter what the weather!

Here are some garden tips for this month, and hopes for accomplishing them in the fresh air on more sunny days!
  • Rake leaves off of lawn areas periodically, and use them to mulch your garden beds. Fallen leaves are a major garden resource that can benefit your plants in two ways: the micro-nutrients they provide as they decompose are essential to plant growth, and they protect the soil from winter rains' erosion, compaction, and nutrient leaching.
  • When mulching in shrub or perennial beds, use no more than a 3" layer and make sure to leave a 3-6" gap around the base of each plant, to prevent excess moisture from damaging bark or crowns.
  • When mulching vegetable beds, use as thick a layer as you want, but put some compost or netting on top so they don't all blow away in the winter storms.
  • If your trees have enormous leaves such as Big-leaf Maples, you will need to chop them up a bit first or they can become a slimy blanket... and not so good for plants or aesthetics.
  • Do NOT use diseased fruit tree leaves to mulch your fruit trees, and make sure to remove all fallen fruit before it decomposes into the soil. Leaves and fruit may contain Apple Scab spores and or the pupae of the Apple Maggot Fly. (these pests affect pear and plum species too) and removing them is the easiest and least expensive way to reduce the chances for future pests.
  • Speaking of fruit, don't feel bad if your trees didn't produce much this year- you are not alone! The extra-rainy and cool spring created a combo effect of reduced bee arrivals and washed a lot of pollen out of blossoms before they could be pollinated. I've even noticed this on some native plants: a less than normal Oregon Grape season (they are early blooming) but good Snowberry production (they are late blooming). According to the latest www.CityFruit.org newsletter, Bob Norton, the northwest's preeminent apple expert, noted: "This has been a very disappointing fruit season, the worst that I can remember." Just like in baseball, there is always next year.
Speaking of baseball, most of you know that besides a garden, a baseball diamond is my second favorite "field of dreams". And so the sudden passing of Mariners' play-by-play broadcaster Dave Niehaus has been hard to accept, but all the great memories of his joy for the game will help temper the sadness... at least until the 2011 season begins without him.

The only other garden "chore" that I recommend this month is to get out there and enjoy the beauty as much as you can. There are so many plants that hold raindrops on their leaves or needles like little jewels like this Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) and sparkle even on a cloudy day, and many fall-winter bloomers like this Vibernum bodnantense (Pink Dawn Viburnum) that are fragrant as well as beautiful. Perhaps I will see you out there!