Share your fall cleanup shortcuts!

karin_mt(4 MT)September 6, 2013

Soon it will be time to sharpen the shears (even though I never actually do sharpen my shears) and tackle the fall cleanup. Some plants are easy while others are just a giant PITA. Some are best done in the fall, others left until spring. I'd like to hear what timesaving measures work for folks, as I'm always keen to work as smart as I can with big tasks like this.

Here's a few shortcuts I've found:
Oriental poppies - in midsummer when they get horrid looking, I don't cut them back, I just put a shovel at their base and pop out the whole plant in one swift move. The plant reappears from the taproot and I've never had this actually kill a plant. They are overzealous as it is and this saves tons of time.

Daylilies - if I wait until spring rather than fall, the foliage pulls away from the crown. I just yank it off and no cutting is needed. Sweet!

Hardy geraniums - some of these can be cleaned up by yanking away the stems from the crown.

Saliva - if I wait until spring I can break off the stems rather than cutting them. It's much faster this way.

I have some rangy areas with yarrow, lambs ears and other 'meh' plants that I think I'm going to just cut back with the weedwhacker.

Here's plants that are a PITA and make me want to reach for the shovel instead of the pruners:

Catmint Six Hills Giant - takes forever to cut down. Karl Foester grass is also a tough one to cut down. One of mine is almost 3 feet across and that's a lot of snip, snip, snip... snip, snip.... am I done yet? (I've heard about the chainsaw method but I don't own and chainsaw and don't want to.)

Siberian iris - I let these stand over the winter because they are really pretty through November. But by spring they are a floppy mess and the tough leaves are difficult to cut through.

Blue oat grass - I read that you are not supposed to cut them but rather to comb through them and pull out the dead leaves in the spring. But after a few years the plant gets crowded in the crown and actually needs to be cut back. I did that this spring and the plants seemed to like it. But I'm not sure how often to do this. Anyone know?

What other cleanup tips and conundrums do you have?

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christinmk z5b eastern WA

My NO. 1 shortcut tip:
don't do any cleanup until spring, when I have more energy and ambition ;-)

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:58AM
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I really planned ahead in much of my garden because I'm getting older and I really hate cutting things back. I planted many plants in spots where I could go over them with the lawn tractor and not damage anything else. Ours has a deck-lift setting to raise it for travelling while not mowing. So I set the deck at 4", raise the deck lift, and it works great. I did the peonies in under a minute. Did the daylilies in less than five minutes. In about a month, I'll mow over a lot more that is still blooming.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 11:08AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

A big, old garden shears works wonders on everything. Just - chomp, chomp, chomp through dayliles, sib. iris, grasses, even the low, sprawling stuff. Saves a lot of time.

Blue Oat Grass - wait until early spring and set the clumps on fire. It doesn't affect the new growth at all, makes everything neat and tidy and the ash is a wonderful, instant fertilizer for the emerging growth. The old dead leaves burn very fast, so the fire goes out quickly too. Of course, hose down the plants to make sure the fire is out.


    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 11:28AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Good morning, itâÂÂs a gorgeous day here, hope it is at your house too.

I am getting ready to start Fall clean up tomorrow, so this is a timely thread. CMK, like you, I normally wait until spring to do it. Often I focus my energy on larger projects in the fall, and run out of time to do more than that.

I had a chance a few weeks ago, to cut back my Hardy Geraniums to the ground and I havenâÂÂt done that before. They were looking horrid and I was pleasantly surprised to see healthy new foliage has filled in.

I also cut back my Iris foliage about the same time I did the Geraniums and that has neatened them up but no new foliage. So that will be fine until spring.

I have a mess out front of Sunflower, Echinaceas, Heliopsis and Mondarda that is looking very raggedy right now. I donâÂÂt see anything I can do other than cut them all the way back and it's going to look so bare.

Are you supposed to wait until they go into dormancy before cutting them back all the way?

That is a pretty smart ways of doing things Karin and MulchMama. IâÂÂm going to have to look at ways I could use some of those ideas.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 11:42AM
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Karin, Here we sit under the heat dome and you are talking about fall in Montana which must be beautiful. I am waiting, dreaming and wishing....... 10 stifling days left, or so they promise on the News. Fall is my favorite time of the year for both color and weather. Everything is subtle color with tall grasses swaying and long sunlight rays shining through the seed heads and dried forbs creating contrast.

My biggest dread with fall cleanup is picking the mess up and disposal. I can cut plants back as quick as a jack rabbit because I find that part fun, but then there's all those big piles to deal with. Add leaves to the picture and its one big mass to deal with.

I space out the trimming jobs over winter, we are pretty warm here with lots of 60 and 70 degree days and I never need an excuse to get out there, or maybe this just gives me something to do out there. It works out to where I am not overwhelmed all at one time and its done by spring.

I was in the right place at the right time once when a guy was tossing a lot of those really big nursery tree planting pots and I asked him if I could have several. We loaded up the truck and brought them home. These come out each fall and I fill them up with dried plant material, that helps a lot with trips to the trash and amount of mess.

I always have a lot of native wildflower seed and really hate to toss them, seems like such a waste. I deadhead everything into grocery bags and I store them, crunching them into "pillow" bags, rolling the tops shut. Later I take them to an ugly waste spot or somewhere that looks like it could use some color and diversity and I spread them around. That is more like making extra work than saving work but it gives me a lot of pleasure to do that. I like driving back later the next year to see if anything came up. It does and that really makes my day.

The cool season grasses sometimes seem to benefit from an occasional trim. I always waffle on a few, to trim or not to trim. The warm ones I leave all winter for interest and trim them in spring. That is a JOB.

This post was edited by GreatPlains1 on Fri, Sep 6, 13 at 14:03

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 1:53PM
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GreatPlains, you come up here and cut, cut, cut for me, and I will collect everything and chop it up for the compost. Deal?

I hate cutting things back!!! And now I am nursing a respiratory infection and bending over to cut things back leaves me terribly winded. I hate that!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 3:09PM
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I'll even weed for you. I like that job too which is a good thing since we removed the whole lawn. But, I don't go for digging up shrubs although I have done plenty of them and I don't like mixing in soil amendments. The thing about weeding is the low physical taxation of it and it appeals to my lazy side when I'm not in the mood to be energetic. Its also relaxing and a good way to clear out the cobwebs, plus it gives me a chance very once in a while to see some volunteer of some seed sowed maybe three years ago.

The allergies this year are beyond ridiculous. I have had to get steroid shots a couple times and am just now coming "down" from the last bout.

KC, thats not a long drive from OKC.

This post was edited by GreatPlains1 on Fri, Sep 6, 13 at 15:18

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 3:16PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

Oh, puleeze. Most of you began your seasonal gardening around April, and now are whining about an end of season clean-up of six months of growth. I'll be doing a large clean-up in September. A follow-up one around November. And January. In addition to March. And next May. Plus July. To say nothing of the regular maintenance in-between. There is no putting it off until spring here.

;-) Yes, I'm teasing. But it is also true! The garden is mature enough now that I will be getting a bit brutal on the plants and filling the bins. Things that can be replaced by 6-packs (rudbeckia, dianthus, edging lobelia) get yanked. It just isn't worth the 25-50 cents per plant to carry them over. The Balls-o'-Fire tacomas, ginger, bletilla, lavender, buddleia, ruellia, salvia and russelia will be taken to the ground. Whacked in half will be Duranta, Leptospermum, Leonotis, Tecoma stans, T.x âÂÂOrange JubileeâÂÂ, roses, lotus, milkweed, bougainvillea, and red boronia. There are bulbs to plant. Plants to divide/repot/plant. I have not even touched on the work aheadâ¦

Around here, you had better be in for the long haul. I love gardening year-round. But you seasonal gardeners make me smile. By January, you will be pining for spring. In September, you whine about the clean!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 5:06PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Oooh, I'm gonna set my whole garden on fire and see what happens. Keep your eye on the news for the crazy lady in Montana who started the next Great Wildfire, all in the name of blue oat grass!

Seriously though, that is an excellent idea, Kevin -- can't wait to try it.

So, do big garden shears work well? The kind that look like an oversized pair of scissors? I just use Felcos but if the shears are faster I'd be all over that.

What about renting a goat? I wonder if that would work? In these parts you can rent a goat and I *so* want to try that!

GP1, we had cooler temps dangling out at the end of the 10 day forecast for 3 straight weeks. Day after day, the cooldown was promised in 10 more days, 10 more days ... 10 more days! Finally now the cooldown has arrived. It was 90 on Wed but is in the 70s today. Hooray! Sept is usually my favorite weather.

I also agree that dealing with all the stems and stalks is a total pain. We tried many different strategies for this, including the annual brush burning event, tumbling compost bins, just leaving a giant unsightly pile at the edge of an otherwise pretty backyard, and hauling bags of clippings to the local compost center.

Finally we solved the problem for good by purchasing a small utility trailer. I put a tarp down on the trailer bed, then toss on all the clippings until the whole thing is domed up to an improbable configuration, then throw another tarp over the top, cinch it down and hook 'er up to our little station wagon. Who says you need a truck to live out here? Our town has municipal compost so you can drop off material but you have to pay $10 to drop it off, so it's a little annoying in that regard. Anyway, after years of messing around, we finally have a good solution.

GP, I love the idea of casting the seeds about! I did that at the compost center this spring with echinacea seeds. I forgot to check to see if any germinated though. Good for you, that's a cool thing to do.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 5:14PM
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I compost most of my trimmings, but the woody stems and real tough stuff goes in yard waste bags that our waste hauler picks up to go into the community compost. At least that's how it's *supposed* to work. Every time I put yard waste at the street, I spend the next three days calling the trash service, listening to their apologies and promises, and then calling some more. Their general manager has even come to our door to give us a gift card! And still, the service is nonexistent.

I would start a burn pile -- because that's real common here in the county -- but I do not trust myself with fire, and I trust my husband even less!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 6:07PM
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LOL Gyr! I remember living on the coast in San Diego, and there was three seasons of vegetable garden, 4 Mos. each. It just went on and on. I was happy to move here and get a break. I also planted flowers and that was easier. So I have less vegs, and flowers too now.

I also find Six Hills hard to cut down, and even harder to chop up. I find that the easiest thing is to lay stuff down and just run over it with the mower. That chops it up for the compost. But I feel like Rapunzel spinning up the room full of straw sometimes. The piles are immense!

The people who lived here before we did left these giant doughnut Karl Foerster grass clumps which are beautiful all winter. My new neighbor said that the old guy would use a flame weeder to deal with Karl, kind of like the setting-on-fire that aachen mentions. Not sure how that works. Anyway, I leave that until spring because Karl looks nice all winter.

GP-I also like weeding, but not when it is approaching triple digits. It is worse where you are I'm sure, but it still is hot here.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 6:08PM
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Karin, our September usually doesn't arrive until October but we do get a bonus for surviving the endless summer with a very long fall, often up until Christmas. Here we say there are only two seasons. Summer and Not Summer. It starts in Spring (when we get one) and lasts a long time.

Gry Falcon, I am jealous of the plants you can grow in zone 9. Seems like whenever I find a plant I really want I am out of the growing range. I tried the Tecoma Stans and it wasn't hardy. I can grow a lot of plants listed at zone 8 but not that one, I tried it last year. I especially wish I could grow Buddleja marrubiifolia, some of the Sennas, Fairy Duster and Acacias. I have better luck pushing the cold zone than the heat tolerance zone which is rarely listed. I usually have to find out the hard way and one summer is all it takes.

Why don't plant tags list heat zones anyway??

I personally like the season change though. I think there's two camps out there on this. Some people would go crazy without definite seasons while others would never make it through a winter. Winter is much more pleasant than summer here generally speaking except its so drab visually unlike places further north.

woops, I forgot to say this. Karin, I could not garden without grass shears, is that the tool you are talking about? For years I used scissors for trimming, the kind you cut fabric with. I'd hate to tell you how many things I trimmed for how many years with a plain old pair of scissors. That way I could put stuff directly into the bucket and avoid the dreaded piles on the ground.

This post was edited by GreatPlains1 on Fri, Sep 6, 13 at 18:45

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 6:19PM
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KARIN! I had the same idea... Yard Goat. the dogs might have an issue with it but its about me me me not them.

I bought a leaf blower/vacuum this spring after one fall here and close to 20 yard waste bags later that was more than enough for me for a life time. It worked well in the spring for all the leaves I couldn't get to so I'm really looking forward to using it this fall ha ha ha

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 6:26PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

I have a yard woodchuck, but he doesn't do a very good job. Perhaps he should take some notes from a goat.

Karin, long shears work great on grasses. I've also used battery-powered hedge shears which work quite well and, I have a serrated knife that I've used to hack grasses down.

In the cottage area I usually leave things until spring. In spring I find I can just take a rake and the dead stems break off easily while raking and the leaves come along with it. Very easy clean up that way.

I too really dislike picking up piles of spent stuff and am scolded regularly about my piles left all over the place. I'm lucky that we have woods around us so I don't have to worry about how I'm going to dispose if the garden waste.

I'm not sure I've ever let daylilies wither away for clean up in spring, but I'm feeling a bit lazy so think I'll try it with the long daylily bed.

Don't do much to put the garden to bed and don't mulch anything for winter. If it can't make it, too bad!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 9:13PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

Oh my, aseedisapromise. You traded three seasons of veggie gardening for three seasons of what SD dishes out? lol We are north of San Diego, but the conditions are similar to that city. I visited your SD in July. Nice state in July; but if you tried to overwinter me, I'd be a no-show come spring. ;) Absolutely not hardy enough.
It has been interesting reading some of the clean-up hints in this thread. I'd be temped to flame some plants--but that is not possible here. But I am taking some notes, because some of the resorts are in colder climates (MA, Tahoe, etc). So we need strategies for maintenance outside my home zone.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 12:29AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

Karin - You know, now that I look at my big shears I think they're really hedge trimmers. I didn't buy them, inherited them, so I really don't know what they were originally used for, but they sure look like something that would chop through woody stuff or even fingers.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 6:32AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Kevin, they're probably one in the same. I use them on grass, perennials and all the time on all the spiraea I have. They can definitely cut through woody stems. Some perennials in the spring have really hard stems so these work great.

I've attached a link with a sample. Is this what you use too?

Here is a link that might be useful: Shears/hedgetrimmer

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 8:43AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

Yes, mine are very similar. In fact, I have a pair like the ones in the link. The cutting edge on the ones I am currently using is a bit different though.

These are probably over 50 years old and maybe this type of edge is no longer made - or not as readily available.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 11:31AM
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I have customized a pair of hedge shears so I am able to attach a length of pvc pipe for leverage. It easily chops down grasses and lilies with little effort. I tighten a belt around the grasses so they can be picked up after cutting.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 12:50PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

This is great! Who knew that I was missing an essential tool in my quiver? I will definitely be checking these out. Is it necessary to keep them really sharp to work well, or can I slack off on the sharpening?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 12:55PM
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"quiver" made me laugh.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 4:09PM
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Yikes, we in Texas are still getting 100 D. days, there's just no getting out in the yard getting a darned thing done.

However, in Jan and Feb we get some great days and I use those to clear out stuff and "try" to clean up. Then come March, here we go again.

Karin, I grew up in MT (Missoula), and have many memories of your beautiful country. Fall is so gorgeous, we don't get anything even close to that. Enjoy!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 9:17PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I ignore everything except frozen annuals (which all get cut down or ripped out) then I continue to ignore everything else until spring! The lawn gets mowed late because I want to get the leaves up and off.... That's the only spot where I worry about leaves.
Come springtime I grab the hedge trimmer, cut everything off at the ground, rake it out of the bed, run it over with the mower a couple times till its all mulched and then rake it up for the compost. Most of it gets lost in the lawn, which is good for the lawn but really deprives my compost pile.
The biggest cleanup is the ornamental grasses. I have to swing the trimmer back and forth working my way down to the base. If I don't trim it up into pieces the mower won't suck them in for further shredding. Between the electric trimmer and the mower it's a breeze. When I get too old for this ill follow mulchmamas lead and get a riding mower!
I do my cleanup real early in the spring, usually before the crocus are up.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 10:49PM
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ogrose...... I remember you from the Texas Forum back before I dropped off GW. We talked about grasses some time back and I sent in those pictures by John Greenlee and from around here at the History Museum and my yard. I'm the girl from Oklahoma with the "cactus garden". Do you remember?

This post was edited by GreatPlains1 on Sat, Sep 7, 13 at 23:46

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 11:43PM
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Years ago I took out all the labels in my hosta garden (It is very large) so I could just go over the whole thing with my DR brush cutter. The only downside is I no longer know what I'm growing but that is only a downside when someone wonders what something is. I also use the DR on the daylily beds and on all the areas that are overgrown with yarrow, lamb's ears, iris, etc.

The peonies are cut back with shears as well as all the other things that could be damaged by the DR. I leave all the spent foliage right where it is cut down to provide mulch over the winter. It also fertilizes as I don't use any other fertilizer.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 11:39AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Um...setting plants on fire is not allowed here in 'burbdom...

So, to take care of the large ornamental grasses - tie them up into bundles BEFORE cutting down, then just hack at the base with chainshaw or shears.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 12:12PM
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pam_whitbyon(6 Niagara)

This thread is making me laugh. Thanks, today is a day I really NEED to do that!!

I do very little clean up in the fall but it's more laziness than strategy. I get a lot of pleasure from pulling out the dead annuals, and I trim back the daylilies (yesistillhavethem) and the cone flowers. But lately I've found a cheap bread knife to be very handy for cutting things down, and may even try it on my huge grasses in the Spring. The bread knife goes through most things like butter. I yelled at my husband for using my expensive bread knife to cut up cardboard for recycling, then got the idea that I could probably use it in the garden! So went out and bought one of lesser quality. My elbows, wrists and shoulders don't get along with shears and the idea of a chainsaw is somehow intimidating.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 5:56PM
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Want to know more about this: Details/pic would be much appreciated.

Posted by crunchpa z5Pa (My Page) on
Sat, Sep 7, 13 at 12:50

I have customized a pair of hedge shears so I am able to attach a length of pvc pipe for leverage. It easily chops down grasses and lilies with little effort. I tighten a belt around the grasses so they can be picked up after cutting.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 7:34PM
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I will post a pic. I also have used binding twine to tie up the tall grasses. It just saves the hassle of picking everything up. If you have a couple dozen of grasses it adds up. Power hedge trimmers work fine for cutting if you have a nice machine. I like the pvc extended hand shears for cutting daylilies in particular. Do not have to bend over so much.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 7:53PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I don't do much cleanup in the fall. Pull out the annuals and veggies (after the Goldfinches have eaten any seeds), cut down the Peonies, and a few other scraggly or mildewy perennials. Sprinkle some of the castor oil solution to protect the perennials from voles over the winter. Maybe a few other odd tasks. I let the leaves lay where they fall in the gardens. But I like to leave up the grasses and many perennials for "winter interest" and the Goldfinches and Juncoes like to nibble on the seedheads over the winter.

Most of the cleanup is done in the spring. It never fails to amaze me how much work this is! I forget every year. Sorry Gyr falcon, but we do just as much work, only it's in a shorter time frame! Spring cleanup is the only time of year I think I have too many gardens. Chop, weed, pull, and rake it all onto a big tarp, then drag out back to a compost pile, again and again.

I have a pair of large Corona hedge clippers with extendable handles. They are wonderful! When they are fully extended, I can cut down the grasses and perennials without bending over much.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 9:10PM
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Thanks, crunch. Looking forward to pics. Also need tips on how to divide miscanthus. Have two overly large clumps. Think I may need to recruit help to do it - I'm old and small, the clumps, in heavy clay, are old and not small.

terrene, I've got vole problems. Please tell us more about your castor oil treatment. I've been clearing out an enormous number of 5' zinnias, discovering lots of evidence of vole tunnels - and lost my much loved gaura to them in the last month. Arrgghhh.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 6:19AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Pam, the bread knife will work great on the grasses. I have one that I use when I don't feel like using the shears.

A good, serrated knife is excellent in the garden. I don't mean good in expensive, just sturdy. Anyone else use a bread knife for cutting back, dividing, etc......I wouldn't be without one in my "quiver" (love that Karin!)

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 8:06PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Rosie, during the winter of 2010-11 when we had 3 feet of snow cover, and the winter after, I had huge losses to voles in the gardens in the front yard, especially near the road where the cat doesn't hunt. I tried a mole trap but couldn't make that work. I learned about this castor oil vole solution on the Hosta forum and was desperate to try anything.

You mix 1 TBS castor oil and 1 cup human urine per gallon of water. I make mine a little extra strong. Mix well as you apply. Sprinkle amongst the roots of your plants, or along vole tunnels. The caster oil is very sticky and will persist in the soil for 2-3 months. I think this solution makes the soil and roots distasteful to the voles. I have not had any vole damage in 2 years since learning of this method.

The castor oil also sticks to the inside of the watering can for awhile, so I have an old one dedicated to this job.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 8:27PM
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Wow! Thanks so much, Terrene. I just tossed an old watering can, will retrieve. I'm praying that Georgia voles will have the same reaction. Would like to know how much you apply.

My cat isn't hunting much. Did find remains of something the other day, but couldn't id the critter.

thyme2dig, I don't walk outside without my knives. Rogue out weeds in the lawn as I'm mowing and whenever I see one. If the weed has seed heads, it goes into an apron pocket, Carry a big sturdy semi-serrated and a shorter steak knife.


    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 6:34AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

@ terrene

I did say I was teasing, but only because I counted our year-round gardening tasks against colder climate's gardening and winter/snow tasks combined. When you said "Sorry Gyr falcon, but we do just as much work, only it's in a shorter time frame!", it sounds as if you are comparing your partial year gardening season to our 12 months of work as being equal. I'm curious, how did you figure that? Our next 6 months will be just as work intensive as the past six, only using some different plants for the cool season.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 1:49PM
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I think it is really hard to compare the So Cal garden to the zone 5 garden. Having lived in both places it seems to me that the work is more ongoing when you live in Sunset 23, there is never a break. But if you vegetable garden in zone 5 you have to deal with everything at once so it seems really crazy busy. I remember in CA putting away to dry the onions and garlic in May, and then getting ready to put tomatoes in the ground. There was kind of a nice stately progression of things. Especially in CA I remember chasing the ants that put scales and aphids on everything! But I wasn't canning toms, drying garlic, digging leeks, canning applesauce, making pickles, drying herbs, picking raspberries, making pesto, making more pickles, saving seed, digging iris and replanting, blanching beans, planting bulbs, planting, moving perennials, all in the same month. The work was constant in CA, but it's furious in SD right now about two weeks from the first frost. The work doesn't end with the frost either. The quack grass grows about a foot a week horizontally in the cool weather.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 10:32PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Rosie - my cat is 10 and she has slowed down too. The castor oil solutions works great on voles and moles, and I sometimes wonder if it would work for chipmunks and woodchucks, too. I usually sprinkle it all around the root system of the perennials that the voles love, but don't bother with stuff like Daffs and Foxglove, which they won't touch.

Gyr - I was teasing - I have no real idea how much work is involved in California gardening. I imagine it is fairly steady year round, but more evenly paced. In a short growing season like zone 5, we have big peaks in the workload in Spring and fall.

Except for me, I do a lot of seed collecting and processing in the fall, winter-sowing through winter and spring, and sometimes there are winter chores we can do here like pruning and tree work and such. And then I fuss with the houseplants in the winter too. So I try to do gardening-related things year round.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 12:59AM
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my cat is 10 and she has slowed down too.

Us too i.e. our guy is 14 and it isn't often anymore that we see his mice near our front/back door.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 8:46AM
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Rouge, you've been lucky, finding offerings of his mice near the door. I leave doors open any time the weather permits. I used to call the dining room floor "the dead zone" because that's where I'd find the frogs, voles, chipmunks.

A couple of years ago my cat brought an 18" snake in. The poor snake had tooth marks on the body where it had been carried. I wrapped the creature in a dish towel, held it close to get warm, then put it and the cloth in a sunny spot in a front bed. Was so glad to find the towel empty an hour later.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 9:29AM
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GreatPlains1, yes, I sure remember you, you gave me such great advice on native grasses! Am so glad you're back...

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 5:01PM
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north53 Z1b MB(zone 1b Canada)

I've been following this thread with all the helpful ideas. Today I went to a yard sale and bought a wicked looking serrated knife for $1. I think it will be a great addition to my 'tools'!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 5:36PM
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Oh, north53, you will use that serrated knife. Could I suggest that you get a roll of orange neon tape from the farm store and make a flag knotted on your knife and all of your hand tools? You will never lose them and will thank me.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 10:28PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I spend most of my fall energy collecting seeds and raking or blowing the leaves off the lawn to be shredded and used as mulch or added to the compost pile. I like to leave the old perennial stalks up to hold the fallen leaves to insulate the soil and prevent heaving from repetitive freezing and thawing. I also like to leave the seeds for the birds and other creatures. I may yank up the spent annuals, depending on the weather and how long their blooms keep going. Spring is when the real cleanup happens. It's more fun to cut back old stems when you can see the new sprouts peeking out. I just load my wagon with debris and haul it into the woods out of site of the house.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 10:45PM
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Folks, Terrene's recipe for the deterrent is in a post here.

I've been applying this and flagging the areas - keep finding more! You said it's effective for 2 - 3 months. May I assume you reapply then?

We don't have accumulations of snow cover. Can only imagine the damage they could do under the snow.

How many applications do you suggest? I'm going to be sooooo grateful if this works here for me in Georgia.


    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 2:17PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Rosie, I hope it works for you! It's not my recipe though, credit goes to somebody on the Hosta forum.

This solution seems to last about 2-3 months for me. The castor oil is very sticky, so I think it adheres to the roots and soil area for a fairly long time. My theory is that it takes awhile for the rain or water to dissolve it in the soil. But I'm not sure. It may last even longer through the winter when the ground is frozen.

I have already started applying it to the vole's favorite plants, in the vulnerable areas - the gardens in the front yard near the sidewalk.

This post was edited by terrene on Tue, Oct 1, 13 at 21:20

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 9:17PM
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Thanks much for the followup info, Terrene. I found more areas later yesterday. A ton of hostas disappeared over the summer - plain Jane ones, but all I've got. And they ate a lot of my canna lilies. Little devils!

FYI priced castor oil at Rite-Aid Pharmacy - $6 for 8 oz. Then went to CVS - $5 for 6 oz.. Found 6 oz. at WalMart for $2.50. No brainer, huh? Didn't go out of my way to do this, so cost effective.

Castor oil is incredibly sticky. And surprisingly odorless.

The battle is on!

One other question to anyone. How can I tell vole holes from snake or toad habitats??

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 8:25AM
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Eleven(Metro Detroit 6A)

Rhyse, I might have to take up your idea for neon taping my tools. I'm forever setting them down and then searching for them later! And I'm another one who has knives in the garden quiver (lol), a huge cook's knife and a small serrated steak knife. The latter came from the dollar store, and I use it all time for dividing plants and even weeding.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 4:23PM
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Well I couldn't rent a bunch of goats but I did hire a nice young man to do the heavy work for me!! I highly recommend it! He re-edged the beds and dug out a huge old rose bush that had gotten the dreadful Rose Rosette disease. Then he weeded while I was busy planting more tulip bulbs. He lugged the hay bales while I arranged the pumpkins and skeleton! I am so glad he came!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 5:28PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Years ago I bought a rattle-can of florescent orange paint. I paint my tool handles with it. A great time-saver!

My newest most favorite clean-up tool is my new metal firepit. I'm a pyromaniac, DH says; I love to burn stuff. Trim the lambs' ear? Put the clippings in the firepit. Pick up sticks before mowing? Firepit. Pull up dead coneflowers? Firepit. Firepit full? BURN! Repeat as needed.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 11:05PM
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A cheap pair of electric hedge trimmers. I have large gardens and no way could I cut them all back by hand clippers. These hedge trimmers make the job quick and easy..Be care though I have cut the extension cord a couple of times!

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 12:30PM
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Have it snow three feet of heavy wet snow. Then all those little jobs cutting things back and bulb planting fade away, and the larger job of dealing with all the broken trees comes to the forefront. The city hired the same wood chewing up machine as they had after Katrina to deal with the tons and tons of lovely trees now waste.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 10:22AM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

Oh my... I can wait for snow ! Here in Ontario I have loads of cutting back to do as well as caging against deer and rabbits and other critters. In fact, I have 3-4 plants still to put in the ground tomorrow! But the vegetable garden is pretty much empty.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 10:41PM
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Oh my, aseedisapromise - read yesterday about the awful snowfall you had and the huge number of cattle lost. I hope all is okay with you.

gardenbug, I'd like to know what sort of caging you do against deer in particular. Friends nearby overrun by deer.

Continuing to find vole/mole holes, must buy more castor oil TODAY. I've resorted to pouring undiluted urine, adding doggie poop to the holes as a result of my enormous frustration. Arrgghhh.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 7:06AM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

I don't deal much with deer in particular because they tend to keep a certain distance due to our dog. I have seen them chomping roses and small trees at times, but they run off if they see me. So we wrap small trees in "hardware cloth", which is strong wire screening that comes in large rolls from hardware stores. That hardware cloth also keeps groundhogs and rabbits and a zillion other critters at bay.

We are on ten acres, so of course not everything gets caged and there are losses from time to time. On a large property not everything gets weeded either, so there has been a certain adjustment to the "natural look".

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 5:39PM
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Just wanted to come back to this thread and thank Thyme2dig and Aachenelf for suggesting hedge shears for cutting back perennials. It made this fall's cleanup of certain perennials much easier and quicker - phlox, Siberian iris, peony, and Euphorbia in particular. I can use them with mittens on, which is helpful when I'm working in the cold, and they whack down multiple stems at a time, even on the thicker stems like phlox. I think they may get used to cut back the type 3 clematis as well.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 8:11AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Shears do work well on clematis. Years ago I bought a lightweight aluminum one as the heavy hedge cutters were getting too much for me. I shear off a section, throw it into a wheelbarrow and use the shears to cut into smaller pieces for the compost pile then repeat. This goes quickly and doesn't leave piles to pick up later.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 10:49AM
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So "mnwsgal" are you cutting back your Type 3 clems in the Fall (or are you using your shears in the spring)?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 2:53PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

I cut back my type 3 clems in the fall, usually in November after a killing frost. Some years, like this one, before the killing frost but with frost expected and late enough to know that they will not start new growth until spring. Also treat most of my type 2s as 3s and cut them back at the same time.

Edited to add: I use my aluminium hedge shears all during the gardening season. They are wonderful for cutting back, pruning, and for chopping up things for the compost pile. Put plant cuttings into the wheelbarrow or a 5-gal pail and snip, snip then into the compost pile they go. Sometimes I throw a cuttings onto the compost pile and snip them there.

This post was edited by mnwsgal on Mon, Nov 17, 14 at 21:11

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 8:59PM
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Campanula UK Z8

close the curtains...and do not venture forth till spring.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 6:57PM
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peren.all(5a ON Canada)

LOL!!!! and LOL!!!! and LOL some more. Best tip I ever heard campanula. Would that I could.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 7:22PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

OH this is the best time to go a venturing with heavy tools in tow. I saw a mountain lion paw print in the clay by the front tank this afternoon. U need to get started again on the cedar trees for my annual wood clearing.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 6:56PM
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