By Phyllis Galowitz

We’ve had some beautiful days and I couldn’t wait to get outside to start the fall cleanup. It was a little bit chilly so I put on my old Indian blanket jacket, which is just right for this time of the year, and set out with my pruning shears to clean out the dead wildflowers in front of the house. I crawled along the steep hill, being careful not to slip into the ditch, pulling out whatever I could, roots and all. Next I cut down the overcrowded phlox that had finished blooming and were blocking the dahlias that were still looking so beautiful. While I was in that area, I gave the bulbs a final feeding of Bulb-tone, which will seep in slowly until they bloom in the spring. It was time to stop. My labored breathing warned me that I’d done enough for today.

As I entered the house, tiny black arrows began to fall from my shoes and I felt pinpricks all over me. When I took off my jacket, I saw thousands of them covering the nap of the jacket. Those that fell into the collar and inside the cuffs of the sleeves were particularly bothersome. They covered my head, making an interesting pattern in my white hair. I resembled a porcupine! I hung my jacket outside on the clothesline and started hand-picking each arrow (seeds from the wild flowers) off, since brushing did not accomplish anything. It took me more than an hour to remove them, one by one, and then to comb them out of my hair. They didn’t stick to the smooth fabric of my jeans. When I was finished, I swept the seed-covered deck into the grass, wondering if they would all germinate there next spring! Next time I’ll wear a smooth nylon jacket to creep around the dead wildflowers.

The mums, dahlias, and begonias were still blooming on October 12th, but I knew it was only a matter of days before the garden was finished for the year and my next chore would be to put some mulch of crushed, dried leaves on the beds; and be sure to bring in the plants that I’d like to keep over the winter. I don’t have much room inside but I can’t bear to lose the bay laurel plant, which had returned to life so beautifully over the summer. Now, a day later, the first frost has come. The leaves of the dahlias have turned black and I’ve cut them back to six inches. In two or three weeks I’ll lift the tubers and store them for the winter in a frost-free place. They should be placed upside-down in a dry, airy spot for about two weeks to allow the moisture to drain from the stems. If it collects there, it will cause the necks to rot. Dusting them with sulfur will prevent fungus. The tubers must be completely dry before they’re stored in a box of peat moss or sand. I’ll store them under the basement steps, away from warm pipes.

This is bulb planting time. One of the many problems that I have is that I might mistakenly dig up those newly planted bulbs. Short bamboo canes will help me to remember, especially if I’ve told my garden journal what the canes mean. If mice or voles like digging up your bulbs, try a handful of smelly, naphtha-based mothballs blended into the topsoil to discourage them. If bulbs that used to bloom didn’t this past spring, perhaps they’re too crowded or need moving to a sunnier spot. Dig them up, discard any that look rotten or moldy, and divide them before replanting.

Now is the time to assess your garden. Make a note of bare spots or overcrowded areas. Plant an evergreen that will look good all through the year. Sit by the fire and enjoy your indoor garden. ~