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Get the garden clean-up rolling

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. The ground still seems pretty hard because rainfall has been so little this fall. I want to move some evergreen shrubs. How long do I have to get this done?

    A. You have a long time. Hopefully rain will soften up the soil and make it easier to dig up and move these plants. The key thing is to do this in cool to cold weather, so the plant can settle in and grow some new roots before warm weather arrives. Be sure to use a root-stimulating fertilizer when you move the plants.

With the collecting and composting of leaves the major focus of our attention these days, it is easy to overlook other jobs in the landscape that require attention.

Both flower beds and vegetable gardens deserve a good cleanup that will improve their appearance and keep the beds healthy.

Summer annuals had a very good season, thanks to the great start that abundant rainfall gave them from spring to midsummer. And with help from a garden hose, they continued until freezing weather began to wear them down this month. Now it is time for them to go.

But do this right. Because you worked hard to improve the soil, don’t make the mistake of throwing it away. That happens when you pull up annuals with roots and soil attached and casting them off. While it is fine for these to go into a compost bin, you probably have plenty of material it, and the soil that comes up with the roots is better left in the ground.

So try this: Use your pruning shears to cut off the annuals at ground level. This will leave the good soil in place and the roots will decay naturally to further improve the soil. I realize this is more time-consuming than yank-and-pitch, but it will really help your soil.

Flowering perennials also require a helping hand, but should be left in place where fresh growth will emerge in spring. You can make the bed neater by snipping off this year’s spent flower stems and foliage above the crown at the base of the plant.

Certain shrubs, such as hydrangeas and hybrid tea plants, benefit from attention, but not major pruning now. On hydrangeas, snip off any lingering spent bloomsback to the main stem. Do not cut back the stems of mophead hydrangeas, the most common type, now, because you will remove the wood that will produce flowering stems next spring. Tall hybrid tea plants can be cut back to about 4 feet to await major pruning in late winter. Knock Out roses can be trimmed and shaped very lightly but should not be cut back until late February or early March, just ahead of the growing season.

Vegetable gardens should be thoroughly cleared of this year’s summer crops. Leaving the frost-killed plants will harbor pests that will erupt next year to make your life miserable. Clean and store stakes and cages.

Some of you are growing cool-season vegetables such as collards, spinach and lettuce. Watch for winter weeds around them and pull them out while young. Chickweed, which erupts in cool weather, can run rampantly through beds. Shredded leaf litter used as mulch will help reduce the population of weeds. You can dig it into the ground when you are ready for planting next spring.

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