It’s that time of year when it’s cool enough to work outside without melting, and boy do I need to get at it!


Just look at that crabgrass and Bermuda hiding under the leaves of the hostas! And they’ve gone to seed! Pull them up and toss them into the yard for the mower to chop up. Dandelions, purslane, thistles, lambs quarters and so many other kinds of weeds peep out from hidden corners. I’ll use my hand-digger and they’ll get tossed for chopping — it’s all organic rotting! Weeds aren’t my enemy, but I’m choosey about what grows in the cultivated spots.

Hostas, coralbells, coneflowers, poppies, zinnias, and several kinds of daisy are ready for dead-heading. Dried seedheads are put in a separate bucket so the seeds can be scattered in the wildflower areas. Did you know that it matters what you plant, especially in the wildflower areas? For instance, did you know the butterfly bush isn’t a good choice for butterflies? They’re considered invasive. Host plants need to be able to support all stages of the butterfly by producing nectar to attract adult butterflies, as well as being larva nurseries for the babies. Good replacements are buttonbush and sweet pepperbush.

Summer-blooming shrubs, such as crepe myrtles, spirea, vitex, viburnums, etc, may bloom again if they’re dead-headed. It’s still too early to prune for shaping so I’ll come back. Many buckets of trimmings will be put in my hugelkultur (Do you know what this is?) to return to the soil. It’ll contain branches from the trees, and all of the plant parts I generate when cleaning up, returning as much organic matter as I can, back to the ground, not to a bag on the side of the street. Areas where a perennial weed has taken over I’ll cover with thick layers of newspaper or cardboard. When I feel I’ve removed all aggressive reseeders and debris, the ground will get a thick blanket of fluffy pine straw, topped with a few pinecones.

Very fragrant herbs, like mint and sweet Annie, will be used in the chicken and goat stalls. They provide some insect repellent and they make the area smell pleasant. Even after months in the stalls the fragrance will still waft up when stepped on. The mature dill heads, and any other interesting looking dried plant parts, will be set aside for Jeanie’s flower arrangements.

Divisions and potting up will take place over the next few weeks, as I dig and move overgrown plants. Some I’ll share and some will go in the nursery for next year.

Things to consider

Did you know that groundcover plants – kind of like cover crops – are good for your flowerbeds? They help regulate soil temperature and moisture loss, encourage necessary soil life, and suppress weedy plants? Look at creeping jenny, pachysandra, thyme, and others.

Vegetable garden

Wow! The end-of-season growth, especially of the volunteer plants, is amazing! The thornless blackberry branches are reaching long and far, to find a place to root. Armloads of these cuttings go to the goat pasture where they’re so enjoyed. I’ll be very aggressive with these bushes after the first of the year. The fig trees are loaded with unripe fruit. I still have tomatoes and cucumbers bearing, while the corn and beans are done. The remains of the spent plants will be cut up and left on the garden to rot, like mulch. Peppers are coming on and okra has gone to seed.

Again I’m greeted with an overnight invasion of large pallets of crabgrass and Bermuda. Whatever I don’t want growing there next year, needs to be removed, seeds and all. My clean-up won’t be complete until after frost but taking out offending plants is important, and so is putting in a cover crop. Turnips, radishes, cereal grasses, legumes — a diverse mixture — will continue to build the soil all winter. As soon as I can I’ll top the whole garden with a thick layer of old hay. I’m done for now.

Life and living things require work, don’t they? What we do with the soil we’re responsible for is worth our efforts. We can be more efficient, more beneficial to all of Nature, and lessen negative impact on our environment, while we simplify the labor. Nature gives a clear picture of how things operate. All we need do is observe and follow. I like knowing I did little harm, and even managed to make a good impact. Don’t you?

Sherrie Ottinger, a.k.a. “The TN Dirtgirl,” is a regenerative Earth thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. Her passion is all things “dirt.” She may be reached at with comments or questions.

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