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5 Frugal Fall Gardening Tips

Spring fever is for spendthrifts. For cheapskates, Fall’s the time to garden.

Sure, everybody’s green thumb seems to blossom with the first warmish day of Spring, just about the same day the green blades of the daffodils pop up in the flowerbed. But by Autumn, most fair weather gardeners have long ago hung up their hoes for the season and planted their butts firmly in front of the TV to watch football.

That’s a shame, because in most parts of the country the Fall is the best time of year for all kinds of garden activities, including planting and transplanting my types of plants. It’s also the time of year when you can save a bushel of cash on gardening equipment and nursery stock, and save even more by properly tucking in your garden and equipment for its long winter’s nap. Here’s how:

Great deals on end of season nursery stock:

In most climate zones, Fall is actually a better time of year than even spring to plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and many other perennial plants. The soil tends to be warmer which promotes root growth, and — unlike with Spring planting — there’s not the potential of a long, hot, dry summer facing the young upstarts. And, if you’re going to put down sod, Fall is also generally the best – and cheapest – time to do it. Many nurseries dramatically discount their remaining container-grown plants and other nursery stock, both to avoid over-wintering them and to make room for the soon-to-arrive Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees. I’ve found it’s a great time to negotiate an even better deal by simply asking for an additional reduction on already discounted nursery stock.

Best prices on garden tools and equipment:

By shopping around, in the Fall you’ll likely find the best deals of the year on all types of gardening tools, equipment and other supplies – with the possible exception of snow blowers, chain saws, and snow shovels. It’s also a great time to go hunting for used lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and other lawn and garden equipment, since many people dump their used equipment at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales at the end of the season. And if you’re in the market for something major – like a lawn or garden tractor – it’s worth calling some area landscaping companies to see if they plan on selling off any of their used equipment now that their busy season is over; a few years ago, I bought a heavy-duty (and lightly used) weed trimmer from a local landscaper at the end of the season for about ten cents on the dollar compared to what he’d paid for it new six months earlier.

Time to put away and tune-up equipment and tools:

Lawn and garden tools can cost a bundle, even when they’re on sale at the end of the season. It pays to take care of the equipment you own, and Fall is the perfect time to give then a little TLC. One of many great uses for aluminum foil: it makes a great scrub pad to remove dirt and rust from shovels, hoes, and other metal gardening tools. And when you’re done scrubbing them, sharpen your pruners and other gardening sheers by simply cutting through the aluminum foil scouring pad a few times. Oil all metal surfaces on your tools – used motor oil works fine for that – and put the business ends of your gardening tools in a plastic bag along with a couple of pieces of leftover summer charcoal to keep tools from rusting. Lawnmowers and other gas powered garden equipment should be thoroughly cleaned. Air and fuel filters should be changed (along with the oil). And, most experts agree, the gas tank should be kept filled with gasoline that has been treated with a stabilizer; this keeps the gas fresh and prevents condensation and deposits from developing in the engine (run the engine for about 10 minutes after adding the stabilized gasoline).

Build a compost pile and mulch:

If you don’t already have one, you definitely want to start a compost pile in the Fall to provide a receptacle for all the leaves, pumpkins and other yard debris you should rake up before winter sets in. Building a compost pile can be as simple as staking up a hoop of three-foot-high “chicken wire” or other mesh fencing; just so long as it allows for air circulation from the sides and is deep enough for leaves and other organic matter to compress itself thanks to the law of gravity. Also, keep your eyes open after Halloween and Thanksgiving for leftover bales of straw that might be discounted – or even put out for the garbage man – now that they’ve served their decorating purposes; straw makes great mulch or can be added to the compost pile. Mulching garden beds in the Fall with wood chips, compost, or other suitable organic matter helps to retain ground moisture and protect plants sleeping underneath. Check with local landscaping and tree removal services in the Fall for some of the best prices of the year on mulch.

Divide and multiply:

In addition to being the best time to plant most Springtime flowering bulbs (e.g. tulips, daffodils, crocuses, irises, etc.) as well as trees and shrubs, many perennial plants and vegetables can be divided in the Fall. Dividing most perennials – once they’re sufficiently mature – will both make them healthier and create multiple plants out of a single one, all for the cost of nothing more than a little light labor. Do your research in advance to determine which types of perennials should be divided in the Fall and the best methods for doing so. In general, perennials should first be thoroughly watered and the entire plant dug out of the ground, with its root ball intact. The root ball should then be separated into smaller plants by pulling it apart with a pitch fork or, in some cases, even cutting it apart with a shovel or other sharp tool. The smaller plants should then be immediately replanted in the ground and watered again.

Once I’ve buttoned down my garden and yard for the season, I’m reminded of a quote from author Stanley Crawford:

Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do – or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so.”

(original post)

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Organic Gardening Techniques Help Control Pests

There are many benefits and lessons to learn from organic gardening. Among them is how to control insects through plant diversity.

When insects like bees and leafhoppers can control their own populations, there’s no need for pesticides. Insects keep themselves in natural check because some of them are natural predators of each other, says organic expert Erica Renaud at Seeds of Change in El Guique, N.M. “But also they are competing for food sources, so when that happens they will monitor and manage their own population.”

To create what Renaud calls an “insectary,” pick the right plants. For example, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native species that attracts butterflies and bees. “This is an example of both an insectary and cover crop, so plant this to attract insects and pollinators and to cover the soil and protect it from erosion,” she says.

Cover cropping is another organic technique where crops are planted for the sole purpose of conditioning the soil. Used to promote soil fertility, cover cropping also helps with water drainage and weed control. Buckwheat, fava beans and clover are great cover crops.

Compost plays a huge part in the organic growing process. At the Seeds of Change farm, composting is done on a large scale in formations called windrows. A windrow is usually about 8 feet wide and 5 feet tall in full form. The compost is a mixture of manure for nitrogen, twigs and leaves for carbon and vegetable matter for nutrients.

As a general rule, the more compost is turned, the faster it matures. The maturation process for one windrow is eight to nine months. At the end of the process, it should look just like soil – indicating a high humus count -and have no unpleasant aroma. “If your compost still has a bad anaerobic smell-it has too much oxygen and is still fermenting – then it’s not ready. It can actually be toxic to your plants,” Renaud says.

One of the objectives of the farm is to develop new organic varieties of crops that can grow in a range of climates. Onions are one such crop popular among growers all over the country. The ‘Rossa Di Milano’ onion has a globelike shape, keeps for a long time and has a sweet flavor.

Lime, lemon, cinnamon and Italian large-leaf basil are popular herbs. ‘Red Rubin’ is a favorite among growers for its striking purple foliage. It can be used as a culinary herb as well as an accent plant.

Genovese basil is particularly popular because it’s used in making pesto. Harvest by pinching just below the leaf nodes (where the leaves are attached to the stem). This helps to make the plant bush out, giving you more volume and more basil to harvest.

Some brightly colored flowers at the grocery store are synthetically dyed, but you don’t have to sacrifice flower color when you go organic. There are several cultivars of zinnia that come in a variety of colors and can be harvested all season long. But gardeners aren’t the only ones attracted to their brilliant colors. “Butterflies are really attracted to color,” says Renaud. “There are lots of pinks and oranges, and they are really attracted to that.”

(original source here)