Fall projects are in full swing around here, so I thought I would share them in order from the most ambitious right on down to the easy things that can be accomplished almost as an afterthought.

The most ambitious tasks:

Removing a mature Eastern Red Cedar as shown in the opening photo.

These trees often have a shallow root system and come out easily enough with a Bobcat. Then the tree must be loaded onto a flatbed for removal. The tree that we plan to remove is growing too closely to our swimming pool. It's not as if we don't have any other Eastern Red Cedars on the property; at last count, we had 24 mature trees on our one acre of land. This one can be sacrificed. Nevertheless, I will mourn its removal; it has been growing in our back yard for 22 years.

This brings up the next task that my husband and I wrestle with over and over:

Processing our branches, limbs, and shrub cuttings that pile up as we go about pruning our shrubs and digging up volunteer trees in the spring, summer and fall of each year.

Many states have bans on summertime burning; here in Delaware, the "Burn Ban" always goes from May 1 to September 30. That's a long time to wait if you have pruned trees and shrubs but cannot easily dispose of your prunings. Therefore, my husband has a "Fire Hole" that he maintains out in the garden (until I "inadvertently" fill it in with dirt—much to his annoyance). In keeping with the law, the fire hole sees no activity until late fall into winter. You can't blame a girl for leveling the garden, can you? Holes can be re-dug.

But anyway, the fire hole is not solving our limbs-piling-up issue because the ratio of limbs piling up along the side of the shed to the limbs being burned is about 5:2. This is not working.

Meanwhile, the dead brush pile grows and grows. (That's a lot of growing for something that's not even alive anymore.)

While browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon a use for some of my cut tree limbs and branches: natural wooden trellises for vines. I want to try to fashion some trellises out of those cuttings! Of course, this means that I must dig through a five-foot-pile of yard waste in order to sort and "grade" my branches, but I don't mind—I'm rather excited about giving the discarded wood a purpose.

What doesn't make the "cut" for use as a natural trellis will then be burned or chipped for mulch. We have a tiny chipper that takes one skinny stick at a time.

Next two ambitious projects:

Making new strawberry boxes. We have had strawberries for about 20 years, moving them to different locations every so often. The healthiest strawberries are alongside the house in wooden boxes but are creeping into the driveway, and that is where I draw the line. We have all of our materials; we just have to get out there and DO IT! (Honey, are you reading this?)

Our existing strawberry boxes are five feet square (about 1.5 meters) and are filled with a mix of commercial planting soil, vermiculite, peat, and compost. While this is working well, we want a longer, narrower box design so we can reach into the middle. The first strawberry plants to move are the ones in the driveway, and then the ones that are reaching into the downspout. The thing about transplanting strawberries is that they seem to multiply even as you are digging them up. There are so many to go around, it's a great way to share with your neighbors who like to garden.

Planting new Blueberry bushes. We have three mature blueberry bushes that surprised us this year with enough berries for homemade muffins and for eating atop our cereal in June. This project entails going to the home improvement store to pick up a few more blueberry bushes for planting in the same area as our existing ones to increase our berry yield. Young berry bushes should be going for a discounted price by now.

If I cannot find blueberry bushes, I will get blackberry or raspberry bushes or whatever type of berry bushes that are still left.

Next two, slightly less ambitious projects:

Starting an Herb garden. With record numbers of mosquitoes in the mid-Atlantic this year, I would like to start with some insect-repelling herbs like Lemon Balm, Lavender and Catnip. I hope to get this idea rolling quickly so that the herbs become established before frost hits.

Creating new Iris beds. This was a project for spring, but it was put on hold until fall. Time to get moving! Good thing my husband bought another rototiller a few weeks ago. Now he has to teach me how to operate it.

The minimally ambitious projects:

Improving our composting. Although we do currently compost, the vegetable items are not breaking down fast enough for us, so I will improve my track record of actually visiting the compost bin to turn over the contents with my trusty shovel. My plan is to add one bag of commercial soil, grass clippings, leaves, and a little water. I think the open-top bin was too dry this summer even though we have had lots of rain.

Bringing the houseplants indoors. This year, I only had one plant, Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida) that went directly into the ground; everything else is out there in pots. Easy enough. I like to use my homemade insecticide from a recipe found right here on Dave's Garden several years ago. It seems to do the trick. If insects still appear after a dousing with the homemade stuff (recipe below), I will resort to using some sort of commercial spray only if it is natural.

Starting some vines. Excited by my weeklong job as garden caretaker for Norma of "Norma's Garden Pool", I am now inspired to grow vines for the very first time in my life. As of now, the only flowering vine growing around here is ivy-leaved Morning Glory, and I'm not sure I want to encourage it. No, this native morning glory has to be untwined from everything in the yard. Then there is the Virginia Creeper growing up the side of the shed, but since the USDA warns about its toxic berries, I'm not going to propagate it. It stays in check each summer by Japanese Beetles that reduce it down to nothing.

Being the cheapskate—er, frugal person that I am, I'm going to start with a cutting from Norma's Wisteria vine that she faithfully controls by frequent pruning. This vine cutting will go into a pot and will not be allowed to root directly into the ground until I say so. Norma's lovely wisteria vine is against a vinyl fence and is only permitted to reach about six to seven feet (2 meters) in height.

The final, "afterthought" project:

Collecting flower seeds. The Mirabilis jalapa flowers are spitting out their grenade-like black seeds faster than a group of boys chowing down at a Watermelon festival. And the Portulacas are putting forth their little papery brown cups full of tiny seeds that look like finely ground black pepper. This is one of my favorite fall chores, collecting various seeds and drying them for the next year. I might even pay Norma a visit to get some other varieties of seeds as well.

There you have it. Have I been ambitious enough?

Here is the recipe for homemade insecticide suitable for houseplants:

To one gallon of water, add one tablespoon of liquid dish soap and two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol. Freely douse the incoming houseplants with this solution, letting it soak into the soil in the pots as well. Allow the plants to drain in a sink or tub.

Here are the sites from which I drew inspiration:

Vegetable Gardener

Trash Backwards


The Gerson Institute

Mother Earth News

Square Foot Gardening