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Q There are some big trees in my yard, and I'm wondering what's the best way to use all the leaves. I've heard that by themselves leaves are not a good mulch.-walter reynolds, pine bluff, ar strength. That will protect the bark until new growth extends enough to provide shade.

Q There are some big trees in my yard, and I'm wondering what's the best way to use all the leaves. I've heard that by themselves leaves are not a good mulch.-walter reynolds, pine bluff, ar as a

A The problem with autumn leaves mulch is they can mat together when wet, decomposing slowly and making it difficult for bulbs, perennials and desirable seedlings to sprout through in spring. The solution is to shred them, which you can do fairly easily with a rotary lawn mower. Shredded leaves are an excellent mulch—attractive, relatively weed-free and rich in plant nutri ents—and shredding helps them break down faster, which improves soil structure.

Rake or blow the leaves into large piles about 4 inches deep, then run over them with a lawn mower. Start by working around the edge in a circle, directing the shredded leaves toward the center. When you've finished, the volume of leaves will be reduced by about half.

Rake up the shredded leaves and apply them as a mulch about 2 inches thick among shrubs or perennials. If you have more than you need for your shrub and perennial beds, pile them somewhere out of the way to decompose. Shredded leaves are an excellent addition to compost piles and can also be used for mulch around

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it — au th or unknown

GARDEN design

sage advice annuals and vegetables next spring.

Don't try to collect the leaves with a bagging attachment on your mower unless you have lots of spare time.The leaves will quickly fill the bag, so you'll have to stop and empty it every few minutes. If you have a really large lawn to clean and a ride-on mower, you might want to consider an attachment designed to blow the leaves from the mower into a large trailer towed behind the machine.

Dealing with autumn leaves in this way is well worth the effort. A timely leaf cleanup is essential for the health of your lawn, and the shredded leaves make about the best mulch you can get.

Q I've had a variegated hoya vine growing in a sunny window for two years, and it has never bloomed. Does it need perhaps less sun to bring it into flower?-josette rand, enid, ok

A If anything, it likely needs a little more sun, not less. Hoyas bloom most prolifical-ly when they get plenty of bright light. Hoya carnosa is well-adapted to conditions indoors but is a plant that's notoriously slow to flower. Once hoyas start to flower, however, they tend to rebloom dependably.

If the plant is growing high in the window,

Plants Plenty Enid
Above:A rotary mower makes short work of shredding autumn leaves for mulch. Below left: The star-shaped, waxy, night-scented flowers of Hoya carnosa are worth waiting for.
Hoya Carnosa Trellis

move it lower for more light. Don't cut off the long shoots; instead wrap them around a wire frame or trellis. In summer move the plant outside into bright filtered light.

Hoya aficionados recommend keeping plants slightly potbound. In their native Southeast Asia, hoyas are epiphytes, growing in pockets of litter on cliff faces and on large trees; the long vines root wherever they find a bit of organic matter to grow into. So use a well-drained soil mix that is fairly high in peat. Water the plants regularly and feed lightly from spring into fall. Stop feeding in winter and also cut back on the water, but never let the soil get bone dry.

With luck and a bit more sun, your plant may begin blooming this spring or summer. But even if all the growing conditions are right, don't lose hope if the plant takes another year or two to strut its stuff. And when it does, don't trim off the stubby stalk when the flowers drop; the spur will bloom repeatedly for several seasons.

Q The deer here have become so numerous that they've just about taken the fun out ofgarden-ing.Are any of the liquid deer repellents worth the bother?—alice nye, burlington, nc

A Sprayable repellents can be effective, especially if you can't build a very tall fence (though deer fencing is a very reliable deterrent). But the sprays are not infallible. When the deer become numerous and exhaust supplies of their favorite foods, they will eat even things treated with repellents.

Deer repellents can be expensive and need to be reapplied after heavy rains and after new growth extends several inches beyond the last treatment. The entire garden doesn't need to be treated year round. Deer forage most heavily along their established paths, which may change with the seasons. Spray the plants they are browsing along those paths and any around them to encourage the animals to move on quickly.

Deer tend to return to feed on plants they like. But just because they have never fed on one kind of plant, don't assume that it is deer-resistant. They may not have discovered it yet.This is another good reason for covering with repellent any prized plants you have—so deer don't have a chance to learn to like them.

In winter as wild foods become scarce, deer will forage closer to your home. Any plants with evergreen foliage, tender stems or fat buds are targets. Apply these with repellent anytime temperatures get above freezing. In spring be sure to also include the first perennials to emerge.

There are lots of commercial deer repellents out there. Bobbex, Deer-Off, Deer Out, Repellex and Liquid Fence are a few that are purported to be effective and are widely available in garden centers and by mail.They all have a strong smell right after you apply them, but the smell quickly fades, at least to our noses. Since deer become acclimated to most of our attempts to deter them, it is a good idea to switch brands of spray from time to time.

november / december 200 5

Every vine climbing and blossoming tells of love and joy — robert g. ingersoll

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