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Skaggs: Collect leaves, seasoned wood
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The weather is cool, and the holiday season is in full swing. And while I know many of you have other things on your mind, here are few tips for the home and garden.

After raking leaves, don’t send all your hard work up in smoke. Leaf fires stink and the downwind neighbors can get especially angry if their windows are open. The smoke from leaf fires can irritate the eyes, nose and throat of healthy adults, but can be much more harmful to small children, the elderly and people with asthma. Instead, compost those fall leaves and produce a valuable organic soil additive that you and your garden will be proud of.

Dumping ashes in the garden will add nutrients, mostly phosphorous and potassium, to the soil but remember to do this in moderation as it also makes the soil more acidic. Scatter ashes in a thin layer over a large area, and lightly till if possible.

Firewood heating value is rated high for ash, yellow birch, hickory, dogwood, sugar maple and oak; medium for black cherry, paper birch, elm, hackberry, red maple, pine, sweetgum and walnut; and low for cedar, cottonwood, spruce, yellow poplar and sycamore.

Green wood will burn but seasoned wood has a higher heating value. That’s because heat is lost as the moisture in the wood changes to steam, which then escapes and allows the wood to burn. Green wood sizzles, fizzles and spits as it burns. It takes six to nine months for green wood to season.

Green wood often splits more easily than seasoned wood. White oak, ash and maple split much easier green than when dry.

If you have annual flowers on your mind for next spring, remember they will do better in a rich, organic soil. Raised beds amended with organic matter work well for annual flowers. Yet another reason to compost those fall leaves.

Tulip and Dutch iris bulbs need to be planted in cold soil so they don’t send up shoots before the roots are established. If tulips are planted deeply, they will produce large, uniform flowers for many years.

Examine the limb structure of your shade trees. Remove dead, diseased and storm-damaged branches. If left on the tree, these weakened limbs can cause damage by falling on buildings or passers-by.

If bird feeding has been a favorite activity this winter, order trees and shrubs that provide cover and small fruits for your feathered friends. Consider species such as crapapple, hawthorn, holly, dogwood and pyracantha that can help lure hungry birds from cultivated fruits if planted on the opposite side of the yard.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension Coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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