A rotary lawn mower is an effective way to chop leaves into small pieces. If you let them fall onto the lawn, the smaller pieces will fall between the blades. You may have to run the mower over them more than once.
Leaf fragments will not harm the grass if the quantity is not too large. They will be gradually broken down by worms and micro-organisms and the resulting humus will improve the soil.

You can also use the grass catcher to pick up most of the leaf fragments along with grass clippings and use them to improve soil in other areas of the landscape. There is typically about a 3 to 1 ratio between leaves raked up and mowed leaves. You will have about 1 bag of chopped leaves for every 3 bags of whole leaves. Leaves can be chopped up with a mower no matter where they fall. You may have to rake them out from behind and between shrubs and flowers.

I also run a lawn mower over dead annual flowers and vegetables after frost kills them or they are through being harvested. The finer you chop them, the more quickly they will break down into humus. They can be immediately incorporated with the leaves into the vegetable garden and flower beds. It is all right to leave them on top of the ground until spring, but fall tilling or spading is better. Fall is also a good time to incorporate bark, compost or other organic matter into the soil.

Organic matter improves soil more than sand, topsoil, or any other amendment. If you have a heavy soil which is hard to work, the organic matter makes air pores so water can flow easily into and through the soil. As micro-organisms and worms use the organic matter for food, they produce sticky, glue-like compounds which aggregate soil into small particles up to pea size, which then act like larger particles. If you have sandy soil, organic matter has the ability to hold water and slow down its movement through the soil. Organic matter also holds onto nutrients so they can be absorbed by plant roots before they leach below the root zone.

Prune Trees and Shrubs, Except Spring Flowering Shrubs
Orchardists and professional arborists do a lot of pruning now and through the winter. Spring flowering shrubs such as azalea, rhododendron, forsythia, lilac and heather have already set their flower buds for next spring. Pruning now will remove some of the flower buds. The best time to prune spring flowering shrubs is in late spring and early summer after they have bloomed. However, it will not harm the plants if you do some pruning now for some other good reason.

Summer flowering shrubs such as hydrangea develop their flower buds in the spring, so it is all right to prune them now or any time during the winter. If your hydrangeas have gotten too tall and rangy, they can be pruned to within a few inches of the ground. This produces full, compact plants.

Fall Weed Control
The Pacific Northwest climate is very conducive to germination, growth and development of so called cool season or winter weeds. These are weeds which germinate in the fall and grow through the winter. These and left over summer weeds are best removed before they drop seeds for next year’s cycle. Existing weeds can be sprayed with Roundup or other brands of weed killer containing glyphosate. This is an excellent time to apply pre-emergent weed preventers. Casoron applied to beds with woody plants will prevent weeds for an entire year. Preen and other brands of Trifluralin (Treflan) will provide about 6 weeks of protection for non-woody plants such as flowers and vegetables. Corn gluten is a natural organic weed preventer which can be used around any plants. It prevents about 80 to 90% of weed growth. Bark and similar mulches will also greatly reduce weed growth. Up to a 4 inch layer can be applied safely around most woody plants. Fall is also the best time to control broad leaf lawn weeds.

Apply Lime
Because of heavy rainfall, Northwest soils are quite acid. Many plants like acid soil but most prefer a more neutral soil condition. Most lawns, fruits, flowers, bulbs and vegetables will benefit by a yearly application of lime or similar soil sweetening products which contain calcium. Up to 10 pounds per 1000 square feet can be applied. Rhododendron, azalea, camellia, heather, mountain laurel, magnolia, holly, dogwood, andromeda, leucothoe, blueberry and raspberry are some major plants which prefer acid soil and should not be treated with lime.

Move Shrubs and Trees
From mid October through mid March is the ideal time to move established trees and shrubs from one location to another. If you have shrubs which have outgrown their location, why not move them where they have more room. Even larger plants can be moved with a tree spade. Let us know if we can help you move plants to a different location.

Plant Bulbs in Pots for Indoor Bloom
Besides planting bulbs outside this time of year, you can also plant them in pots or other containers for bloom this fall and winter inside your home. Most bulbs need to be cooled for about 12 weeks after planting in order to bloom, but a few require no special treatment. Most full-service nurseries and garden stores have wide selections of types with specific directions on “forcing” them into bloom.

Paper white narcissus bulbs are pre-cooled and ready to be planted without any special treatment. Paper whites bloom in clusters of tiny, fragrant, daffodil-like flowers in either white or yellow. They are often planted in bowls or relatively shallow containers with just enough gravel or pebbles to hold them upright. They can be planted in deeper pots also. Just place the containers in a sunny area and keep them watered. They will bloom without any further treatment in about 4 to 6 weeks. I start mine in a sunny, west facing window in the basement where temperature is in the low 60’s. They develop a nice, compact shape. As soon as I see flower buds, I bring them upstairs into the main living area. If started in a warmer area, they grow taller and will need to be supported with a stake and string or tape.

Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and grape hyacinths are best for forcing with a cold treatment. The best tulips for forcing are the triumph strain which have medium height stems. Read labels or ask for the varieties which are best for indoor flowering. Almost any daffodil can be forced into bloom. Varieties such as King Alfred, Golden Harvest, Las Vegas, and Ice Follies are some of the best. The dwarf multi-flowering daffodil can also be grown in pots. Hyacinths are the most fragrant of bulbs. Single bulbs can be forced in a special hyacinth glass which has a lower chamber for roots and water and an upper one for the bulb. Hyacinths can also be bloomed with several bulbs planted in a pot.

Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and grape hyacinths can all be planted in ordinary flower pots. The smaller bulbs can be grown in 4 inch pots, but the larger ones need a 6 inch or larger pot.

Fill pots with potting soil, leaving an inch or more at the top. Then place bulbs close together in the pots, but not quite touching. They should be almost completely covered with just the tips showing at the soil surface. After potting and watering so that some water drains from the bottom of the pots, place bulbs in a cool, dark place for about 12 weeks or until sprouting has started. The ideal temperature is 40 to 50 degrees, which is the normal temperature of a refrigerator. If you have an extra refrigerator for summer, now is the time to put it to use for forcing bulbs. Check pots regularly and water as needed. Use different kinds of bulbs or make multiple plantings at 3 week intervals to spread out the blooming period.

You will notice roots at the drain holes and tops will begin to sprout when it is time to bring bulbs into light at room temperature. They will bloom in 2 to 4 weeks.