The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
Photograph of Red-Tailed Hawk taken at Nichols Arboretum by Andreas Kanon
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Question: The leaves are falling and I'd like to not send them to a landfill. What can I do instead?

Answer: One of the easiest things that you can do is simply mow over them where they fall on your lawn. They will provide your lawn with an all-natural time release fertilizer as they slowly decompose over the winter. With a little more work, you can rake them into your garden beds to serve as mulch there. (This is also great for your waistline as long as you switch the way you hold the rake so that you bend and twist in both directions - works the oblique muscles in your abdomen.)
An interesting idea, involving a little more work, is to create a "wall/fence" with the leaves. Make columns from chicken wire (3' length = 1' diameter; 4.5'length = 1.5'diameter; 6'length = 2' diameter"), fill with leaves, and place side by side in an attractive manner to delineate a garden area. The leaves will slowly decompose so that leaf mold can be removed next year. The structure is easily moved or reconfigured. New leaves can be added annually. It's a great low-cost way to play with placement of a wall without having to haul and stack stones or dig post-holes and construct fences.

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Question: Will my bulbs be OK if they are several inches tall and we get a hard freeze or hearvy snow?

Answer: Yes. Fall planted bulbs come from areas of the world with growing conditions similar to ours-periods of early thawing, followed by later freezes and snowfalls. They are perfectly well-adapted to this. On the other hand, some spring flowering shrubs and trees may be affected. It might mean a loss of some spring flowers and subsequent fruit, but it will not cause permanent damage.

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Question: How do I force branches for blooming indoors?

Answer: Ideally on a day with temperatures around freezing, you may cut branches of spring flowering plants. (If it's colder outside, the branch will be more shocked by coming into the warmth, try soaking them in a tub of water in the garage for an hour or so, then move into the house.) This is an ideal excuse to get out and do a little pruning in mid-winter, and you can enjoy getting a jump on spring indoors, too. With that in mind, you might want to chose branches that need to be removed for the plant's best appearance and growth. Be sure to cut at a slight angle, just above an outward facing bud. Bring the branch(es) inside and place in a vase of water. Arrange as you like. Sit back and wait. The closer you are to normal bloom time, the less you'll wait. Pussy willows, forsythia, quince, apples, cherries and Chinese witch hazels are good candidates for forcing. With pussy willows, if you remove the water as soon as the buds start breaking they will be preserved in that furry state. (Leave them in the water, and they're likely to root!) Have fun! Experiment! I've successfully forced 8' tall black cherries for display at the Ann Arbor Flower and Garden Show.

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Question: How can I extend the harvest season in my vegetable garden?

Answer: There are several ways in which you can do this. One is to plant NOW. Most leaf lettuces, spinach, radish, carrots, beans, beets, and other cool season, quick growing crops (60 days or less to maturity) can be planted in late summer for harvesting into October. The other way is to protect your crops as the days become cooler and frosts threaten. Plastic can be wrapped around tomatoes and peppers, lightweight fabric row covers and plastic sheets can be laid over many shorter crops. These coverings will offer protection for temperatures in the mid-20s. Root crops can be heavily mulched before the ground freezes so that you can enjoy har vesting them in January and February. Similarly, salad greens planted in late September or early October can be covered with a fabric row cover and then mulched. The mulch can be removed in early spring and you can start enjoying fresh greens before the ground is ready to be worked.

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Fall gardening tips

Tip: Don't apply winter mulch to your perennial beds until the ground has frozen. This prevents voles and mice from burrowing around the plants and keeps the ground frozen so that losses due to heaving (freezing and thawing cycles) are minimized.

Tip: Clean the beds of leaves, especially if you have mold or fungal problems, to prevent reinfestation in the spring by spores overwintering on them.

Tip: Do not prune trees or shrubs from August on. Any resulting new growth will not have hardened enough to withstand the winter weather.

Tip: Continue to water - especially new plantings - until the ground has frozen. The roots remain actively growing even when the leaves have fallen.

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Question: I want to plant a Rain Garden and I'd like to use native plants in it. Can you suggest some?

Answer: A Rain Garden is a beautiful way to steward the environment right in your own backyard. These are some of the favorites of volunteers at the Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority: black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), blue flag Iris (Iris versicolor), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum), golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), rough blazing star (Liatris aspera), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and turtlehead (Chelone glabra).
For more information about selecting native plants visit the Wild Ones website
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