Most people hate raking leaves.
It really doesn't matter whether you intend to compost leaves over the winter or to stash them in plastic trash bags for pickup. Either way, you've got to hurdle some awful psychological barriers to drag yourself from the house and rake leaves.
Raking does more than neaten your yard, though. It can stop diseases in next year's garden.
Rose growers have long accepted that a clean rose garden is the best defense against black spot; they maintain that only dirty rose gardens have the disease.
Those who have grape arbors respect the intensity with which black rot rears its ugly head every June, so they go to extremes to keep an aseptic environment around the vines. They'd rather keep things clean than lose the grapes.
Backyard fruit growers have minimized scab disease on trees by preventing the overwintering of disease spores in the orchard. Every last leaf is picked up in the fall and again in early April to stop disease spores from infecting new leaf shoots.
There are hundreds of other trees, shrubs and flowers subject to year-after-year disease problems. Many of those problems can be stopped by good sanitation in the fall. Here are some of the major ones: Maple: Anthracnose, purple eye and tar spot are the most common leaf problems, each overwintering as spores on leaves littering the ground. Don't worry about identifying the diseases. Collect all fallen leaves through the fall to prevent reinfection. If you had blighted or spotty leaves this summer, spray leaf shoots of young maples three times with Bordo-Mix next April. Spray when the first leaves unfold, then twice more over the next three weeks.
Oak: Anthracnose and leaf spot are common. Rake all leaves so spores don't winter in the garden. Young oaks may be sprayed two or three times with Bordo-Mix as leaves begin to sprout next April. Use the "gooseneck" tree and shrub sprayer when you do.
Hawthorn: See-through summer leaves means leaf blight, usually stopped by raking all bits and pieces of leaves now. Spray unfolding leaves with lime-sulfur in early April, followed by one Zineb treatment. Leaf spots are common, but raking of leaves and the spring Zineb spray will stop this.
Magnolia: Fallen leaves should be raked and bagged. Beware of bits and pieces on the ground; they should be eliminated, too. Leaves with blighted ends should be pruned since they will soon drop. Sanitation will break the chain of blight and leaf spot disease problems. Apply Bordo-Mix early next April to protect foliage from infection.
Honey locust: Fall raking controls the leaf spot problem; young trees can be sprayed once with Zineb next April as extra insurance.
Walnut: Two leaf spot diseases plague these trees, both living in bits and pieces of leaves falling to the ground and overwintering in the garden. A thorough raking of fallen leaves is your best defense, especially against the disease that causes summer defoliation. Spray young trees three times with Zineb next April, a week apart, starting when the first leaves unfold.
Elm: The major problem is Dutch elm disease, a problem communicated by elm beetles, not foliage. However, fallen leaves trigger a host of leaf spot problems, all of which are stopped by methodical raking now, and two Zineb sprays to unfolding leaves next April. To prevent leaf curl, make a late March treatment of lime-sulfur before leaves start to open.
Hemlock: Rake fallen needles now so leaf blight doesn't infect new growth next spring.
Poplar: Leaf spot is common on these trees, therefore fall raking is a must. If the garden is spotless, your leaves will be the same next year.
Pine: A host of diseases affect the tree, but tip blight and needlecast are minor problems. Fallen needles may not always carry disease because pines usually drop four-year-old needles in early fall. To be on the safe side, rake all fallen needles. A new layer of mulch covering the soil next spring is suggested. Put a spray of Bordo-Mix on developing needles in mid-to-late March.
Spruce: Needlecast or yellowing of needles is not unusual. Bag all fallen needles to stop overwintering of disease. Spray with Bordo-Mix in late April. Consider adding a new inch of mulch around the tree every spring to cover bits of needles carrying the disease spores.
Arborvitae: Discoloring of foliage is mostly a late spring or summer problem, but can be stopped by collecting all foliage that has recently dropped. Browned tips of branches should be left intact and pruned early next April. Apply Bordo-Mix in April, again on a cool evening in early July.
Cotoneaster: Remove all debris around the shrub now; apply Bordo-Mix once next April to protect foliage.
Pieris japonica: Collect all bits and pieces of leaves now and there won't be any spotting of leaves next year. Spring sprays are seldom called for.
Peony: Neglected plants inevitably have disease problems year after year, mostly leaf spot and blight. Since stalks have just been cut to the ground, focus on a meticulously clean peony garden, removing all canes, dead foliage and debris. Consider junking the mulch now if the peony has had disease problems in recent years or you haven't replaced the mulch completely in the last two years. Keep soil bare through the end of the year, then mulch the soil the first days of January when the ground is frozen for the winter. Spray once or twice with Zineb as the leaves start to unfold next April, and the disease problem should be over.
Leucothoe: Leaf spot survives the winter on dead leaves littering the soil, so rake all organic matter around the plant. Check the mulch for bits and pieces of leaves, too, removing now and replacing in January. Apply Zineb or Ferbam twice next April.
Boxwood: Leaf spot is not unusual, especially after the dry August. Brush the plant with an old broom to dislodge dead foliage, bagging the fallen leaves. Spray with Bordo-Mix late next March to clean up latent disease spores.
Camellia: Rake debris so the soil is spotless early next month. Replace the mulch in early January. Apply Bordo-Mix to unfolding leaves in late March, followed by a treatment of wettable sulfur. Pick off any spotted leaves next spring.
Clematis: Leaf spot is your major concern. Clean the area around the canes now, making a Bordo-Mix treatment early next April.
Pachysandra: Pick out dead leaves now. If next April is cold and wet, spray with Bordo-Mix or Zineb two or three times when weather permits.
Privet: Spotting of leaves is seldom a problem, but brushing the plant with an old broom usually dislodges the dead leaves. Rake the soil now, and spray once with Bordo-Mix next April.
Delphinium: Cut back the old stems to the soil if you haven't done so already, then use a hand trowel to collect fallen leaves and debris. You won't have to spray next year because you cleaned now.
Hollyhock: If you planted this biennial last spring, check the soil for litter. Sanitation is part of the problem. Spray Bordo-Mix on the new leaves in mid-April next year. The major culprit is rust, which devastates plants quickly before they can flower. Apply Zineb (dust) to leaves weekly from early May up to when flowers bloom, cutting plants to the ground immediately after.
Marigold: If you had blackened flowers and foliage in August, things got worse in September when plants died, one by one. This leaf spot is a midsummer problem, but can be stopped by meticulously cleaning the bedding garden where the marigolds survived up to a few weeks ago. It's standard practice to spade frosted marigolds from the soil anyhow, but do this carefully so all plant parts are collected and thrown out. Next summer, start spraying leaves biweekly with Zineb or Dithane M-45 in late July, up to Labor Day.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).