The Heart of New England
Fall Garden Clean Up
by Andrea Lani

While some people face the advent of fall with dread of the approaching cold,  
impending dark time and
winter blues, others can barely wait to dust off their
skis and snowmobiles.  To most homeowners fall means that it is time to get the
yard in order before the snow flies. Without realizing it, however, we may harm
the environment with some of our yard cleanup activities. Luckily there are
green ways to do your
fall garden clean up.

When the leaves start to fall, pass up the leaf blower in favor of a good
old-fashioned rake. In addition to being great exercise, raking leaves eliminates
the noise; odor and pollution gas-powered leaf-blowers give off.

Put Those Leave to Work: Compost Them

Once the leaves are piled up-and the kids are done jumping in them-avoid
burning or bagging them up for the garbage collectors to haul off to the landfill.
Instead, try starting a compost heap. Start with a simple structure of wood, wire
or snow fence (even just a pile in the garden will do). Add some layers of "green"
material, such as spent plants from the garden or vegetable scraps from the
kitchen. You'll be well on your way to a rich source of nutrients for the lawn or
garden next spring.

The same goes for branches and brush from windfalls and pruning. Instead of
smoking out the neighbors with a monster bonfire, consider renting a chipper to
create fabulous mulch that will keep the weeds down around shrubs and
perennials. Or, for an even simpler solution, pile the brush in a corner of the yard
to create winter cover for birds and small mammals.

Consider Less Grass Area in Your Yard

With the leaves gone, check your yard over carefully for patches of bare soil.
Seed and mulch these areas to prevent erosion during fall rains and spring
runoff. Rather than enlarging your lawn, consider planting an ornamental
ground cover that requires less sun and maintenance. If you do plant grass,
choose a low-maintenance variety such as a mix of creeping red fescue (40%),
Southport Chewings fescue (10%), perennial rye grass (30%) and Kenblue
Kentucky bluegrass (20%).

For the rest of your lawn, forego the weed and feed treatment this fall. Many
chemical pesticides are harmful to humans, pets, wildlife and fish. Nutrients in
fertilizers can run off and pollute waterways, causing algae blooms. Instead, take
this opportunity to improve overall lawn health. Pick up a soil test kit at the
local Cooperative Extension or Soil and Water Conservation District office and,
based on the results, correct nutrient deficiencies. Aerate your lawn with a
simple manual aerator to allow air, water and nutrients to reach the grass roots
and encourage deeper root growth. Finish off with a top dressing of compost.

Whether you choose to curl up and hibernate or get out and enjoy every
snowflake this winter, you can rest assured your fall was well-spent, making the
world a little greener-in your backyard.

About the author: This column was submitted by Andrea Lani, an
Environmental Specialist with the Maine DEP's Bureau of Air Quality. In Our
Back Yard is a weekly column of the Maine Department of Environmental
The Heart of New England
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