In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
Pine straw mulch is attractive and popular, but can be combustible in a dry year if left unwatered.
Clean It Up
Not wanting to be a nag, I'll ask politely: Please clean up your garden! There's no better time than now to do it for the health and safety of the garden, and the gardener.
Serious outdoor safety issues present themselves in the autumn. Of course, hurricane season runs until the end of November, and too often winter storms beget unexpected tornadoes. Garden hazards in the event of storms include weak or damaged limbs and trees falling on to structures or people, but also include yard art and furniture that can become airborne. Make a plan and provide secure storage for such potential missiles or anchor them permanently. Sink posts in concrete, use secondary tie-downs that screw deep into the ground and bolt sheds to their foundations or nearby permanent structures.
Do not wait to prune out tree limbs that can become a hazard, regardless of age or bloom season. Please do not "borrow trouble" by attempting to prune near utility lines or at heights you cannot reach. That note on the top step of every ladder warning against standing on it is not a suggestion. Get a taller ladder, use a telescoping pole saw or hire a professional who is bonded and insured to do the job safely.
With the exception of parts of the Texas, Florida and South Carolina coasts, our regions are experiencing abnormally to severely dry conditions. Outdoor burning is prohibited in much of our regions and weather forecasters do not foresee substantial precipitation for weeks to come. Everyone has a responsibility to reduce fire hazards around their home and when possible, the neighborhood and local community. Once a fire starts, whether caused naturally or not, its spread generally follows the easiest path. A woods fire can too soon spread to dry landscapes, their houses and outbuildings.
In the long term, there are many preventative steps to take such as choosing shrubs not noted for their flammability. But in the short term, clean out the gutters and keep the lawn and beds watered and check with your state's Forestry Commission for timely information from their "Firewise" program. Each has a state coordinator who can provide materials and likely visit with you or your neighborhood association to advise you. Some of this information is as simple as what you learned in Scouts or other camping experiences, but it goes much deeper, to the wisest choices of materials for paths, roofs and landscaping.
Clean up for health
Cooler temperatures and falling leaves can get the gardener's juices going. Raking leaves as they fall is not always necessary, but in very wet or dry times, it is essential. Deep piles of wet leaves promote fungus diseases like leaf spot on shrubs. Those same piles can become a fire hazard in dry, windy conditions. Build a low profile compost heap out of raked leaves and other garden debris. Turn it weekly for fastest rot, and keep the pile watered if conditions warrant. Elsewhere in the garden, turn under old mulch and lay on a fresh blanket. If worms are few in your garden, consider using ground hardwood bark mulch to encourage them.
Your personal health always needs attention in the garden, beginning with comfortable shoes and sunscreen. But personal insect repellents are important all year long too. Counter-intuitive as it might seem, the mosquito transmission of west Nile virus does not stop in dry or cold weather. The symptoms of this virus are diverse and too often overlooked. Keep the pets' water bowls covered, empty fountains not in use, drain pools and repair leaky irrigation before you close up the summer house.
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