Heavy Lifting


Am I the only person who finds fall as labor-intensive in the garden as spring?

My daughter’s Dill’s Atlantic Giants: Almost too big to move

Man, there is a lot to do.

  1. Crops have to be harvested.  There is nothing left in the vegetable garden now except kale, parsnips and Brussels sprouts. The sprouts are okay no matter what.  If I can chop the stalks off with an ax, they are perfectly great for Christmas dinner.  However, if I don’t get the parsnips out of the ground and into sawdust in the cellar in the next two weeks, the soil will lock the parsnips in until April.  People rave about spring parsnips.  They sweeten up in the cellar, too, and I think they become less woody there than in the ground.
  2. Ornamentals have to be harvested, too.  I have most, not all of my dahlias out of the ground.  But I haven’t bought wood shavings yet for their Rubbermaid tubs.  Must do before they dry out.  I also have to pry my giant canna out of its pot outside and stick it in the basement before its corms freeze.
  3. Three hundred tulips and 50 dwarf iris had to be stuck in the ground.  Since that’s the most rewarding task of fall, it’s done.  I’m like Elizabeth, a bulb fanatic, so a casual planter of them.  I drive a shovel into the ground, lift, cram five bulbs into the hole, refill and move on.  No fertilization, no making sure each one is 8 inches deep.  They’re always perfect anyway.
  4. Heavy pots galore must lifted.  I’ve gotten all of the houseplants in.  But the pots filled with frost-killed stuff–basil, tomato plants,
    annuals–have to be emptied of soil and stored in the garage before they crack.  Just to be clear here, I don’t really do houseplants unless they are edible or floriferous.  The former include a bay tree and two rosemarys–it’s so wonderful to taste something so green in winter–as well as a fig tree that has dropped all its leaves, but not the two dozen unripe figs hanging off of it.  Here’s hoping.  The flowerers include a Martha Washington geranium so beautiful–it’s fuchsia and black–that I couldn’t compost it.  It’s now blooming its head off in my bay window and making me happy indeed.  So is the twee-est of houseplants, an African violet!  I wouldn’t have bought such a thing in a million years, but my kids wanted them at the Capital District Flower Show last spring.  I must say, with its maroon velvet flowers…kinda lovely. I planted it in pure compost, and it seems to really like that arrangement.
  5. Mulch must be applied.  This year, I had too little mulch in my vegetable garden and the weeds were intense.  I still have to call my lawn guy and ask him to dump a truckload of fall leaves on my vegetable garden in the country.  The earthworms will thank me, and in my experience, nothing is better at keeping down the weeds.  In an ideal world, I”ll get to spread this pile before it freezes solid. In the city, I’ve been busy for weeks now stealing leaves to put my flower beds to bed, as well as the vegetable garden at my daughter’s school. I casually wheel away streetside trash barrels filled with leaves whenever I see them–or lug away the harder to handle bags.  I fear people find me very eccentric in my town!  Not to mention that I’m certain to get caught at some point by an enraged neighbor who thinks I’m filching his trash can and not the contents.
  6. Goldfish have to be spared the popsicle treatment.  Why, why, why?  I suppose I like to see them in my garden in summer, but consider them the most troublesome members of a household full of troublemakers. I’ve gotten them successfully out of my pond.  Now, I have to scrub their 30 gallon tank, lug the impossibly heavy thing upstairs to my daughter’s room, move her collection of ceramic cows somewhere else so I can set the tank down, wash pebbles for it, fill it, set up the pump, settle the fish in—and look forward to a long winter of buckets sloshing around the house for their weekly water change.

The best thing about being busy in November is that it keeps me from brooding on how bereft I’ll feel in December when there is no garden-related bustle at all.


  1. You’re fall garden sounds like my fall garden. I’ve been emptying giant heavy pots for weeks. I keep waiting for them to dry to be lighter, but right when it’s about time it rains, damn.

    I plant bulbs in much the same way as you do, sometimes even digging mass graves and putting 20-30 bulbs in each. I always plant closer together than recommended and usually not as deep, who has time to dig 8 inch holes in super rocky soil???

  2. Though I garden in a much warmer part of the country, I have a similar list of chores this fall. My “problem” is that too many of my tropical fruit trees are surviving. So cute when they started out as foot tall twig with two lemons on it in a one gallon pot, but that was years ago and now it takes me all day to move the entire collection up the steps and into the house for winter. I have to face the fact that I am getting older and these plants are only gonna get bigger and heavier each year.

    I am such a sloppy bulb planter – my trick is to rake back the fallen leaves and any mulch that’s still around and just toss the bulbs onto the ground. Then rake the mulch and leaves back on top of them, covering with maybe a foot of matter. By spring the leaves have composted a bit and the bulbs come up all on their own. The daffodils even dig themselves down to the proper depth – less work for me!

  3. John, I have a friend in his 70s who has a spectactular collection of 30 year-old citrus trees in pots that are trimmed up into umbrella shapes.

    He also has the biggest rosemary in a pot I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, you could take a bath in that pot!

    He complains about moving them into the house, also. He manages the citrus trees with wise old gardener brutality–saws off part of their roots every spring to keep them manageable, if only barely.

  4. Do you really have to store your pots? Calgary has got to be one of the places in NA that is toughest on pots since we have freeze/thaw cycles all winter long. But I never bother and neither do some others… I just saw this related post with a cool idea :

    pot lids


  5. Potlifters make it easier for one person to move large pots, and a snap for two people to move them.

    Living in zone 8 (Seattle), I don’t have to do most of what you do in the fall. Dahlias can be left in the ground if they have decent drainage here. On the other hand, weeds and slugs never get killed off here either, so I have to continue to deal with them. Fall is the best time of year to plant trees, shrubs and perennials here, so I do most planting (and rearranging of plants) in the fall. I put in about 500 bulbs this year, mostly minor bulbs. I have a lot of houseplants, mostly orchids that have to be brought in, but the biggest pain is the leaves off the big leaf maple. They can be up to a foot across; too big to just let lie on paths, lawns, small plants, or ground covers. They smother everything. I’ll be glad when they finish dropping leaves. I mow them up where I can, but there’s still a lot of raking that has to be done.

  6. I have a few (110) bulbs to plant (I succumbed to B&B’s year end sale), some peonies, and other perenials to transplant. All this must wait until I finish setting paving stones so I know where to put the plants. The weather looks good for the weekend, hopefully I can get it done. If I don’t change my mind on the layout of the stones. Again. Then there is all the perenials to whack down and the leaves to rake for deposit in the compost pile, or on the beds, or in bags to save to mix with the grass clippings in the summer. The veggie garden is done, the pots are done. The porch furniture is done. The fish pond is done. I just clean out debris, cover with screen to prevent leaves, replace spitter with bubbler to keep it from freezing over so the goldfish live. No hauling them into the house, though it would be entertainment for the indoor felines.

    My, that sounds like I have accomplished a lot. Just don’t go indoors. Nothing accomplished there.

  7. I think fall is harder because it’s the end. With spring you have all the excitement of a new gardening season. That’s why I think I enjoy my bulb forcing the most, because I’ll have those in February.

    On bulbs: I just got my final box from Old House Gardens and need to plant a bunch of lilies–I got extra, Michelle–do you want some? Martagons and Black beauties. Email me if so.

    But first, tomorrow, I have to plant 25 trees in the neighborhood.

  8. Those potlids are clever. I’m not sure they’d work here–some of my nice pots shed pieces of their exteriors if you leave them out.

  9. Fall is another beginning here ( Zone 9 ). I’ll be spending the weekend trying to squeeze in a few more broccoli starts, looking for a spot that’s good for another patch of salad greens, trying to locate a site for that mandarin tree I had to have, figuring out what type of critter dug up all of my freshly planted bearded irises ( didn’t eat them, just tossed them aside so that now I don’t know my Ethel Mae from my Dangerous Mood ) before pulling off the drain covers… Plus the usual fall chores of leaf raking & chopping, mulching with said leaves… And I have a tomato plant that – despite starting it from seed last February, is only just now starting to bloom. Fortunately it’s in a pot so I’m planning to insulate it with newspapers & garbage bags to get it through the winter. Who knows ? Maybe I’ll actually get a tomato out of it before Spring !

  10. You’re definitely not the only person – I and my aching back agree along with everyone else, that fall is every bit as busy as spring. The only real difference is that some garden clean-up stuff can be put off until spring. Though when I think about how crazy spring is, I wonder why I ever decide to procrastinate now… oh I know why – I’m falling into the winter snoozes now and know I’ll be raring to go in the spring. That’s it.

  11. I’m blessed to be poor. I don’t care if I live or die. Try my hardest to live on my own and barely get the taxes paid.
    Pay taxes to the McMansion parents that hate thier own kids.

  12. Get a python hose for your fish water changes. It hooks right up to your faucet and can drain and refill the tank for you. It makes the fish hobby a lot more manageable though my plants did always love fish water.

  13. Work, work, work! Spent most of the day shredding maple leaves and dumping the result into the shady borders, then more time blowing the tiny golden honey locust leaves into the pachysandra and geranium macrorrizha (and I know that’s spelled wrong), and onto the front shade beds — they make a charming ground mulch for the winter, and the little leaves are vanished by spring.

    My helpful husband got loose with the rake and blower, and sent all the lovely star magnolia leaves out to the street for the leaf vacuum. Gotta go out there tomorrow with the vacuum-shredder and retrieve them for my winter mulch dump. SO much to do! I feel like the White Rabbit — “I’m late, I’m late!”

  14. The good thing about having a very small garden is that the chores are compressed into a very tiny space… when I have time to do them. This year, I’ve been particularly, well, slothful isn’t a fair word, as life has thrown me a whole bunch of extra stuff this year. Preoccupied?

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