Carla Albright

Carla Albright

I have always found that working from a to-do list gets more done than if I am instead drifting through the garden and finding little things to keep me occupied or to distract me. There are lots of ways to create an effective to-do list, including using a small white board instead of paper that tends to blow away or get dirty or damp. If I have that list with me, I can track what I have done and what still needs to be done. Besides, it is so satisfying to erase or cross items off the list.

But this time of year, I also have a list of things I don’t want to do until next spring. That’s my “Not-to-do List.”

It seems sort of silly to put this type of list in a specific order, as I am not doing all of it at the same time. But for the sake of readability, I will make a list of a non-list. Hmmm. Got it? Okay, here we go:

The first thing I don’t do is cut back my grasses. Many of the shorter grasses are browning and getting a little sad looking so I will cut the browned areas back almost to the ground. But the larger grasses, like Miscanthus, give so much movement to the garden in the fall and winter winds that I hate to cut them back. Most taller grasses will stay relatively green but if they get too browned and I don’t like looking at them, I will cut the worst parts out, leaving what I can.

The second thing I don’t do is cut back my evergreen ferns. (When I refer to “evergreen,” that may be misleading because they do not really remain evergreen like a spruce tree throughout the year. But they stay green until the end of the winter when those fronds die back and new ones form.) Ferns like the Lady Fern and the Maidenhair Fern are deciduous and go into a type of dormancy for the cold weather, so I do clean those up quite a bit, pulling the dead fronds off now. But the Sword Ferns will die back slowly over the winter. Leaving the Sword Ferns alone until March lets those older fronds protect the base of the plant from low temps and rain. I wait until spring when I see new fiddleheads forming to carefully cut the brown fronds off. It hurts me when I accidentally cut a new fiddlehead, so I try not to do that.

I also don’t do any feeding of plants at this late date in the year. The last thing I want is to stimulate them into new growth before a cold snap. The plants that bloom in the spring – rhododendron, azaleas and camellias – were fed after they bloomed last spring and once in mid-summer. That should help their bloom and general health next spring.

For the same reason, I don’t prune my trees and shrubs now either. Pruning always stimulates new growth so even a light pruning isn’t a great thing to do in the fall. I will wait until the plants have gone fully dormant, say in mid-January or early February. Pruning could probably also be done in December, but who has time to garden then? Certainly not me as I am getting ready for the holidays. So, in January or February – when we often have a few days of lovely weather – I pull out the pruners and get to work. This is especially helpful with the Japanese maples as their leaves will have dropped and you can see the branch forms easily.

The hardy fuchsias can also stay as they are for the winter. I am talking about the huge bushes of red and purple or light pink that dot the landscape in Tillamook County. I have several in my garden and they must be almost as old as I am. I like to call these “Grandma’s fuchsias” because they bloom in gardens of grandmothers. (Including me.) These particular types of fuchsias will often keep blooming until the end of January and they give a good food source for the Anna’s hummingbirds that stay around all year. The fuchsias will eventually stop blooming and can be cut back to about 12 inches in late February or even into late March and then they can safely start to put on new growth.

Another thing I can move from the “to-do list” to the “not-to-do list” is putting away all the garden furniture. In the past two winters I have stopped taking in all the chairs and tables from the patio. I leave two chairs just in case we get a nice November or December day when we want to sit in the sun. Admittedly, the sun doesn’t hold much warmth this time of year, so this doesn’t happen too often. But I have always been an optimist. If the chairs are put away, I won’t be able to take advantage of the rare sunny day.

While cleaning my tools and straightening my potting shed will still remain on the Fall To-Do List, I am not as likely to put those tools so far away that I can’t get to them easily if I find a nice day to do a little weeding.

Take a look at your own to-do list and see what you can move to your not-to-do list. I’ll bet there are a few things you can put off and make the fall clean-up in your garden easier than you thought.

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