What do you do with all of those leaves and other fall items?

It’s late November and those beautiful, colorful leaves are going brown and dropping to the ground. What to do, what to do? If you leave them there, no pun intended, they will create problems for the lawn. They will block sunlight, create an environment for disease and look unsightly. Burning them just creates pollution and is a waste of a valuable commodity, organic matter. So, just what is organic matter? It’s that stuff that our sandy soils need to improve plant growth, retain moisture and make a better home for earth worms.

To make the best use of the leaves, they should be dry and not too deep. Using a mulching mower with a sharp blade, mow your lawn as usual only raise the blade to its highest position. You may have to do this several times until all of the leaves have fallen. Now, what have you accomplished? You have added nutrients to the soil that will pay dividends in the future. Leaves contain minerals and pound for pound are better fertilizer than manure. Also, you don’t have to worry about the smell or getting it on your shoes! You may also consider using the leaves in your compost pile. They will break down over time and return humus for your garden in the spring.

Some areas in Aiken have had frosts while others in the higher elevations have been spared. If you still have a tropical plant outdoors with a bloom or two, you might want to bring it indoors. Be sure to check for insects. This year, I’m going to start some new cuttings from a tibouchina urvilleana. This is the tropical version of a plant that I got from Bob McCartney at Woodlanders about five years ago. My zone 8 tibouchina, as I call it, was spectacular again this year and can withstand our mild winters if you cut it to the ground and mulch it well. Tibouchinas have a beautiful deep blue flower that blooms in September until the first hard frost. While the flowers are wonderful, the real beauty of the plant is in the spectacular leaves.

My first experience with this plant was in the green house of the Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C. They were just being prepared to be taken outdoors in late May and the leaves were amazing! My immediate reaction was that the leaves were artificial. Nothing could look so perfect. A closer look proved me wrong. The leaves are a beautiful medium green that look embossed. The texture will remind you of velvet and the plant is worth having in the garden with or without the flowers which just add to its beauty.

If you try to grow tropical over the winter, be sure that they have plenty of sun, stay in the 70 degree range and are kept moist but not wet. You will be rewarded in spring with a healthy plant that is ready for the garden as soon as the weather stays above 55 degrees.

The Master Gardeners hope that you enjoyed their many projects over the gardening season. Programs such as Meet a Master Gardener at the Farmers Market, Rent a Master Gardener, the Lunchbox Lectures and our Clemson Extension office support reached close to 6000 Aiken County residents in 2012 and the year isn’t finished. The newly revised Gardening Almanac for Aiken and Vicinity will be released in early spring and will have something for every gardener. Thank you for your support and we are looking forward to an exciting 2013.

In the meantime, this is a great time to clean up your garden tools, sharpen your lawn mower blades and sanitize your pots and planters. It is also a good time to sip a cup of coffee and determine to highs and lows of this year’s garden. If you had more lows than highs, why not stop in to the Clemson Extension office and visit with a Master Gardener? We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until noon. You can also call us at 803-649-6911, ext. 122 if that is more convenient. Now, go plant some bulbs for spring!

Bill Hayes has been in Aiken since 1982 after moving from Chicago, Ill. He was in the chemical process industry for more than 40 years before retiring in 1999.