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What chores come with the first frost of the year?

It's October and thoughts, of course, turn to the macabre. What of an icy death that blackens what was once alive and delicate?

Yes when the first frost blackens the foliage of cannas, dahlias, and gladiolus it's time to dig them up or "lift" them and protect them over the winter for a resurrection next year.

Dig them carefully with a spade or fork, taking care not to bruise or cut the tubers. Rinse off any loose dirt or pebbles.

This drying or "curing" process should be rather short, just a day or two. Use an area out of direct sunlight or drying winds, such as an unheated garage or basement.

Store the dry tubers in cardboard boxes filled with peat moss, vermiculite, or sawdust. Keep them in a dark, location below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but not freezing. And don't forget to label the tubers.

What to do with all the sordid parts left over from chopping and cutting? Try mulching it all right on the spot. Fall is an excellent time to get a jump on next year's garden by adding plant material that will break down over the winter. Shred fall leaves with a lawnmower and add them directly to the beds.

Leaves can take a year or two to completely break down. Even though they're not high in nutrient content, leaves make an excellent soil conditioner.

To speed up the decomposition process, fallen leaves can be shredded, for instance by using a rotary lawn mower. If you mix in grass clippings in with the shredded leaves, the leaves will break down faster.

In addition to leaves you can add compost directly to your garden beds this fall. Just spread an even layer across the surface of your garden or flowerbeds. Even if your compost isn't quite finished it will be fine to spread it on the garden. Eggshells, coffee grinds and kitchen waste can go directly onto the garden as well. It will all break down nicely by spring.

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