If you didn’t rake leaves in the fall thinking that they’d provide nice protection for your plants from the winter frost, bravo for you! It is good to not have to buy mulch only to have to take it replace it in spring because it has mildewed from the winter rainy season. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be making plans to get those leaves up now that winter will soon be over. Oh, I know, you were thinking that you’d be “green” and just let them decompose. Let me explain why that is a bad idea.
Last fall there were lots of pregnant bugs looking for a place to have babies. Grasshoppers in particular like to burrow underneath mats of old leaves. I don’t mean those cute little green grasshoppers. I’m talking about those three inch long ones that don’t die even when hit with a brick. Those monsters will eat a tomato plant in its entirety in one evening, and I’ve walked out into my garden and had my jaw drop when I’ve seen what they’ve done to my angel’s trumpet.
If you’ve ever been around to see those monsters hatch out of a pile of leaves, then you’ll never again fail to rake your yard. My husband and I were literally dancing in our yard one time as we jumped up and down trying to kill off the baby grasshoppers as they jumped all over our yard. Even the babies – which were less than a half an inch long – required a brick to kill. Needless to say our garden was eaten by the grasshoppers that year. However, we learned our lesson.
We learned to have all of the leaves cleaned up by spring so that we’d cleaned up any grasshopper eggs. We also learned to spray the yard well with Neem on a regular basis which won’t hurt the beneficial insects or the birds but will deter the “bad boys” from settling in your yard. Thus, any bugs that do hatch don’t stay around for long.
Because winter in the Deep South is often more wet than cold, we’d also give our garden a couple of good baths with plain old dish soap. This would keep mildew from settling in and also help prevent black spot and other disease.
Some people don’t like to rake their leaves yet thinking there might be another cold snap and that their garden needs the winter protection. We always keep old sheets for that purpose. You can also use newspapers or sheets of plastic. Usually there are only a few plants that will be damaged if there is a freeze – put the sheets or other covering on them if there is an unexpected cold spell.
Here in Mobile you might even consider going ahead and pruning and fertilizing your roses. Remember, it is going to take several weeks after pruning and fertilizing before the roses bloom, and roses many roses tend to bloom here in mid-March. Think back – when did your roses bloom last year? If March is your answer, then go ahead and prune and fertilize them. You will get more blooms if you do it now. Often people try to follow a standard written in a book such as “prune your roses in May” not realizing that this rule was written by someone who might live in a New England state. Where ever you live, you want to prune and fertilize your roses approximately five weeks before they usually bloom. Five weeks gives the plant time to absorb the fertilizer and send off new growth from the pruning. Remember: pick up all your clippings whenever you prune your roses!
February is a time for snow in some parts of the country, but here in the Deep South it is the time we look to cleaning our yards for springtime. Don’t delay – you want to have your leaves raked and debris cleaned before the bugs use that pile of debris for a home.