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GREEN THOUGHTS: An old job with new twists


“THERE’S MORE LEAVES out here than ever before!” my neighbor Mary exclaimed, as the yellow, orange and brown confetti rained down. She should know, she’s lived here for 50-plus years. I suspect it’s the frequent south winds blowing the autumn leaves in our direction, not unlike the winds of change which are getting us to re-think the ritual of putting the garden to bed.

The biggest change is neatness. I’m accustomed to pulling up the remains of all annuals and chopping down every perennial stalk and stem, leaving the ground as flat as a nuclear bomb blast. Tidiness removes diseased plant remains, makes the gardens less attractive to varmints like voles, and reduces the amount of work to do in spring.

But a plea for less grooming is now coming from those who know nature. Pollinators and other creatures important to the planet’s function require places to spend the winter. Red mason bees, leaf cutter bees and wool carder bees need to nest in cavities, so the hollow stems of plants like beebalm and ornamental grasses fit the bill. Butterflies including the red-spotted purple, meadow fritillary and viceroy want to hide in seed pods, vegetation, and rolled-up leaves. Hoverflies, which sound pesty but are actually important pollinators as well as aphid-eaters, must have the shelter of undisturbed soil or craggy tree bark to ride out the cold and snow. As we become better attuned to the importance of these tiny and often unseen creatures, we’ve got to recognize their year-round needs.

Much more mundane is my take on garden hoses. I used drain, roll up, and store each of the hoses, a laborious job, with the idea that water freezing inside would split them. Then I got lazy, and decided one November to leave the long hose, which travels from the house to greenhouse, behind shrubs and under the sidewalk, in place. It was an early ’90s model from the now defunct Frank’s Nursery chain, and its days were probably numbered anyway. That was several autumns ago, and Frank’s hose, since undrained and totally neglected, is still working beautifully. And while I still drain and store some of the others, I have one less pipe to put by.

Think politics is contentious? Let me explain the fall mowing height issue. North Dakota State University recommends your last lawn mowing of the season should cut the grass to two inches, to reduce matting and the disease called snow mold. University of Kentucky takes a bolder stance, saying a lawn cut to a height of one and a half inches will have better color and quicker spring green-up. But Wisconsin recommends keeping your lawn at its normal height of three inches. Colorado State is having none of it, proclaiming “There is no reason to mow the turf shorter in late fall.” Personally, I’m with Colorado. While snow mold is worse on overly long grasses, mowing shorter than normal isn’t likely to help but will instead stress the lawn. Mow your conscience.

To contact David Chinery, horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email

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