Most of our area finally experienced a hard frost last Wednesday and Thursday morning, ending a gardening season that lasted much longer than “normal”. October 2021 is on the books now, as one of the wettest and hottest on record. As annoying as the rainy weather has been all summer, it has benefited our forests. Prolonged droughts, like those we have experienced in recent decades, contribute to long-term declines in forest health that are difficult to reverse. Tree species such as the eastern hemlock, which have been devastated by the hemlock woolly aphid, can tolerate insect pressure much more provided they have sufficient moisture.
It is true that increased rainfall leads to an increase in fungal diseases, especially leaf spot diseases, but these diseases are much less serious to the long-term health of the tree than drought. If your landscaping trees or shrubs suffered from leaf spot disease in the past season, be sure to pick up and dispose of any fallen leaves this fall, as those leaves will serve as sources of infection next spring. For a disease to occur, three things must happen simultaneously. First, there must be the presence of the pathogen in sufficient amounts to cause infection. Most fungal infections are spread by spores that overwinter in dead leaves. This will be the case for the leaves that fell next spring serving as an inoculum. Then the environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature, must be favorable for the germination of the spores. Finally, the host tree or shrub must be at a sensitive stage. Most leaf infections occur before the leaf forms its protective, waxy cuticle, so by the time you see symptoms, it’s too late to do anything. I think we can rely on the last two conditions so the only thing you can affect is to remove the fallen leaves and reduce the level of infectious spores.
It is important to get rid of any leaves in general that may be covering your lawn at this time. It only takes about 6 weeks for lawn grasses to die off, if they are completely covered with leaves, until the grass is completely dormant. They do not suffocate until they perish for lack of sunlight. You can pick up the leaves and throw them away for curbside pickup, but I consider this a waste of a valuable resource. Put organic material in a landfill, which can be used elsewhere on your property. The best solution is to compost the leaves in a compost heap or bin, then use the compost in your gardens next year. Maple leaves, especially sugar maple leaves, compost quickly, but oak leaves often pile up and can ruin a compost pile if not shredded or mixed with a coarser organic substance. . Maple leaves alone make an excellent mulch for asparagus beds once the tops have been removed. Wait for the asparagus fern to turn yellow before cutting them down to ground level, then you can cover the bed up to six inches, or even more, with maple leaves. You can also use maple leaves as a mulch in perennial beds after the tops of the perennials have been cut.
Simply mowing the leaves on your lawn where they fall will allow their nutritional value to feed the trees. Even though the grass doesn’t need to be cut, shredding leaves while mowing is perhaps the best way not to waste this source of nutrients outside of a compost pile.
Be sure to dig up your summer bulbs like canna, tuberous begonia, gladioli, and dahlias before the ground freezes. Store bulbs, tubers or bulbs in the basement in paper bags filled with dry peat moss for the winter.
It’s not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs in a location that is prominent from the windows of your home. Only daffodils, alliums, and the imperial crown are roughly immune to deer predation, while tulips are eaten like candy where deer are plentiful.
Spray rhododendrons and other broadleaf shrubs now with an anti-desiccant to prevent winter burns. Be sure to coat the undersides of the leaves with the spray, as this is where the stomata are located. Be prepared to spray again in December on a hot day and maybe again in February.
Erect wooden cages to protect shrubs that deer eat, or wrap bushes in burlap. Do not wrap them in plastic “burlap” as this material does not allow air exchange. Deer populations declined dramatically this fall, with the onset of EHD disease in the Hudson Valley. This viral disease has killed hundreds of deer over the past summer and fall, much to the dismay of deer hunters. When a wild animal’s population exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, nature often steps in to remedy the problem.