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Gardening Carol O'Meara


Stay in shape with garden workouts

 In fall, gardeners need to make the most of the exercise program that the garden offers. Stretch-n-tone raking, composting for strength training or aerobic lawn care all deliver top results in beautifying body and soil. I admit I prefer to get my workouts the easiest way possible, preferably by exercising avoidance, but that’s because classes at the gym don’t interest me. Nothing is less appealing than watching myself in a mirror as I flail around the room in a sweat. Yard care, however, is a fabulous workout and one at which anyone can look good.

Take fall leaf cleanup, for example. Since it is a must-do chore for turf health, it can either be a burden or joy, depending on your point of view. An obsessed gardener revels in the physical activity of raking, scooping and lifting, all in the clear, crisp air. There’s no expensive gym membership, no secret comparisons of body shape, and, best of all, no spandex involved in the whole process. In fact, the only clothing required is that which will keep you out of jail and off the neighborhood hit list.

There’s a sense of accomplishment along with the satisfaction of improving your body through fall gardening. Leaf cleanup on lawns has to happen in order for the turf to remain healthy during the winter. If given a few weeks of water and blowing dirt, leaves laying on the grass begin to break down and compact together to form an effective blanket over the turf. Even small carpets of leaves will smother the grass, cutting off air and sunlight. Throughout the winter, this blanket is enough to kill off the grass underneath, and should be removed before it can do harm.

If you mulch with leaves, bulk your muscles up and avoid pests and disease by bringing leaves in from a different plant and area of the yard, such as using tree leaves to mulch over perennials. While leaves make great mulch for many garden beds, avoid mulching gardens with leaves that fall from the same plants in that area. Many problem pests lay eggs on fallen leaves immediately under their host plants, and fungus, as well as bacteria, have over-wintering forms that lie on the surface of those fallen leaves.

Even with this precaution, leaves can be problematic when used as mulch. Some, such as leaves from Black Walnuts, may contain chemicals that prevent other plants from growing. Others may be in the same family of plants and harbor serious diseases that can spread around. Meticulous cleanup of fallen leaves under plants is one of the cornerstones of garden health, and recommended to avoid problems reoccurring every year. Overall, an ideal solution for fallen leaves is to compost them, and mulch with bark chips instead.

Composting is a critical part of gardening, providing an easy means to recycle natural materials into soil amendments. It’s a wonderful weight-training exercise as well, especially when turning the pile. That “turn-lift-turn-relax” set of repetitions really buffs the body.

If basic yard workouts are not for you, there are automated methods for leaf removal. Who needs a treadmill when a lawn mower pushed around chopping the leaves will suffice? One could ‘super-set’ the chore by bagging the chopped grass/leaf mixture and carring it over to the compost pile. It’s phenomenally aerobic, and no one is demanding that you shriek out “wooHOO” to celebrate the burn.

Inevitably there will be those who cheat the workout by using leaf blowers. For them I can only offer this caution: whenever power equipment is used please wear eye protection and a good pair of running shoes. After you’ve blown those leaves into your neighbor’s yard the running shoes will come in handy as you flee the scene.

Carol O’Meara is with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information, about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Cooperative Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303-678-6238, or visit www.coopext.

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