Well, these are three things I am doing at least…
1. Pruning Laurels into beautiful trees.
Laurels are like a great song played ad nauseum. They are up there in the top 3 hedging shrubs which makes them useful and practical but to most people’s eyes: common, boring and ugly. However, I would beg to differ.
I think Laurels actually have beautiful shape when given a chance. I use them as foils in the garden – an evergreen with a lush, large leaf to offset more delicate plants, frame views and block things like telephone poles, nosy neighbors’ windows and the like.
How to do it: Firstly, let it grow a bit. If you have just planted it don’t prune just yet. I have waited two seasons for the ones I pruned today to grow on a bit. If they are mature…get pruning. The trick is to clear the stems up to 2′-3′ from the base. Make them more tree like, thin them out a bit. Their trunks are beautiful – smooth, twisting, curving – so show them off a bit. Keep in mind what is behind them though. If it’s something ugly like a block wall make sure you have a back up plant like a good sturdy shrub or a climber on the wall. Otherwise, you end up just showing off a block wall. Although in some places they would just call that retro-urban.
And if you mess it up, don’t worry they grow back quickly.
2. Making leaf mold
Okay, this is clearly nothing new or momentous but I have finally decided it is time. And this is because every time I clean up old leaves that have been let sit, even just for a couple of weeks, the bottom layer is so crumbly and beautiful and black AND there are always earthworms in there. So I am making it official now and making my own leaf mold because anything that black and crumbly and beautiful has to be good for the garden.
How to do it: There are loads of articles out there on how to make leaf mold. I have seen it happen on a curbside with no one doing anything so really I am just going to pile my leaves in a dark, dank corner of the garden and wait. But for those who want to be a bit more pro-active, it depends on how much space you have because leaf mold can take up to a year to happen depending on moisture levels.
Plenty space: if you have a hidden corner, shady, damp (is behind a shed where runoff from the roof soaks it) that would be ideal. Just pile your leaves and leaf them there. You can turn them with a pitchfork to make it all happen a little more quickly. If you like things a bit tidier use a net bag or burlap bag and stuff the leaves into those. You can flip the bags occasionally to help it along.
Caught for space? Make a 3’x3′ cage out of stakes and chicken wire (or be creative and make it beautiful) and pile them in there.
Tips: to make your leaf mold happen faster try and keep it damp and run it over with a lawn mower to get the pieces smaller before you start (decompose quicker).
Use like compost. It’s rich so you can be sparing.
3. I am not cutting my ornamental grasses
I LOVE this time of year in the garden: I can’t remember a single name of a plant and that’s okay, I don’t have to worry and wonder whether the slugs will get these plants or not, it’s too late. This time of year, all is eaten and all is forgotten, I just want to cut. I want to cut everything down and make it nice and tidy and autumnal. Ready for Spring and new growth to happen uninhibited by old branches and stalks. BUT, as I get my Edward Scissorhands momentum going with the pruners I am constantly reminding myself how beautiful ornamental grasses look in January with frost and morning winter sun lighting them up from behind.
I really want to cut them. And you can, it’s fine to cut them down this time of year if you would like (I am talking Miscanthus, Calamagrostis, Stipa..most grasses) but if they have their shape still and haven’t been too wind beaten then leave them… they are going to really come into their own in a couple months. I promise.