COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Know how to make the most of autumn

Meet Marianne Binetti on Saturday, Sept. 25 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Furney’s Nursery in Sea Tac. Enjoy a free seminar on Fall Gardening and Landscaping for less water waste.

The third week of September is a good time to start cutting back and composting the spoils of summer. There is still time to dig and divide crowded perennials as well. Daylilies and bearded iris are two perennial plants that will stop blooming when they don’t have enough elbow room. The general rule when it comes to fall pruning is if it looks ugly - off with it’s head. This includes roses gone leafless due to black spot and raspberry bushes still left unpruned after the berry harvest. Don’t put the diseased foliage of roses into your compost pile but just about everything else is great fodder for great soil. Brown leaves, green top growth and a bit of soil to activate the clippings is all you need to make compost. Just pile it up in a corner and let it rot. Grass clippings are the best for getting a new compost pile off to a hot start.

Fall is for composting

Usually I like to leave my grass clippings on the lawn as they add valuable nitrogen as they decompose in place, but this fall I have a newly built compost bin - a welcomed anniversary gift from my husband that knows how much I love compost. It is an improvement on the three-bin compost method I have used for years. This is the only way for lazy gardeners like me to get rid of garden waste and make new soil.

A three-bin compost means one section or bin is where you dump your garden refuse, the next section is the bin sitting full of debris so it can compost all year, and the third section is the finished compost from last year that is being used. So as one bin fills up it becomes the resting bin then the old resting bin turns into the finished compost pile and the previous pile of finished compost is what gets used up as a fall mulch and is now empty and ready to become the bin that takes on new compost material. Then the rotation happens all over again. I never mix or turn my compost pile as it has all year to rot (in the resting bin) and the open-sided bin makes it easy for dumping wheel barrow loads of grass clippings and garden refuse.

Fall is for Dividing and Multiplying

So what does one do with all that compost? Fall is a good time to add it to the top of flower beds and spread it as a protective winter blanket around new trees and shrubs. One of the most rewarding fall projects is to dig up weak or crowded clumps of daylilies, asters, astlibe hosta, iris or heuchera now and using a knife, (on the iris) an ax (on the hosta and daylilies) or just your bare hands (on the huechera, asters and astilbe) break apart the clumps and toss out anything dry or dead from the center of the old plant. Now replant the younger side shoots into soil that has been improved with your valuable compost. Talk about your extreme makeover. Next spring the iris will be irresistible, the hosta handsome and you’ll want to kiss your asters.

Heucheras and astilbe will actually fade away and die if you don’t dig and divide them every few years. These two shade-loving perennials are the easiest to divide as they have shallow roots that pop easily from the ground and snap apart with just a twist of the wrist. Don’t procrastinate if you don’t have any compost ready for the replanting. You can buy bags of weed-free compost from any garden center. Go ahead and snip off faded foliage or summer weary foliage and weed the beds while you’re doing your garden math and dividing and multiplying plants. Finish up the dirty deed with a good long drink for both you and the newly divided plants - dividing plants may be a dirty job but a freshly-planted bed of newly-divided perennials is a growing reward.

Fall is for planting lilies

If you want easy care perennials that add fragrance, height and majestic drama to the summer garden then plant lily bulbs this fall. The fragrant stargazer lily, the classic white Madonna lily and the perky Asiatic lilies are available as bulbs now. Fall is for planting more than just daffodils, tulips and crocus bulbs.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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