Two-thirds of the population of the United States is overweight, so lots of us are looking for ways to drop some pounds. Most want the quick fix with the latest magic pill or the 21st century equivalent of the grape fruit diet. While losing weight may be difficult, the basic concept is simple — burn more calories than you consume. If hanging out at the gym isn’t your cup of tea, try these tasks that will get your heart pumping and help your garden as we move into the cooler months of fall.

Pushing a fertilizer spreader consumes 500 to 600 calories per hour. Adding nitrogen to our lawns is pretty much over for the year but turfgrasses growing in sandy soils may benefit from an extra shot of potassium. Use 0-0-20 or 0-0-22 at five pounds per 1000 square feet now to help your lawn survive the coming ravages of winter. Potassium products like 0-0-7 are available that have a herbicide to prevent winter weeds added so you can take care of two jobs at once. Just read and follow the directions carefully. And, as you’re sweating it out behind the loaded spreader, remember that you’re working those gluteus muscles if you still care about having “buns of steel.”

Continue your garden workout by keeping the debris off the lawn. Pine needles are already falling. The leaves of the deciduous trees won’t be far behind. That rake waltz is good for about 600 calories each hour. Rather than burning the products of your toil, use them as mulch or add to the compost pile.

Catch your breath with a bit of low-intensity scouting for large patch. This fungal disease attacks all of our lawns once the soil temperatures drop this time of year, but really enjoys working over centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine. Areas where water collects are usually the hardest hit. Roughly circular patches of brown grass develop. Grass blades typically have straw-colored lesions. Granular formulations of triadimefon (Bayleton) and azoxystrobin (Heritage) as well as some combination products are available to make the application simpler.

Nothing cooks the fat like some heavy duty digging. Spend an hour getting to know your favorite shovel better and you’ll expend about 1200 calories. Mix some extra organic matter with the soil while you’re digging and you’ll create a much better place for shrubs, vegetables and flowers to grow. Just make sure you do the heavy lifting with your legs and keep the extra strain off your lower back.

All of this digging and soil improving should have your heart rate in the fat-burning zone. Stay motivated by adding new plants to your freshly-prepared soil. Garden mums add a brief shot of color to the landscape. Trees and shrubs can be planted with great success between now and the end of the year. But, wait another couple of weeks on the pansies and violas even though you’ll find them in the garden shops now. Warm days and warm soils set early-planted pansies up for disease problems.

Spend 30 minutes working in the garden several times every week and you’ll burn off the equivalent of five to six pounds of extra body weight each year. You’ll look and feel better and your garden will be the envy of the neighborhood.

For lots of great information and advice, check out our website where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610. You can also find great local information at and on Facebook. Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.


Al Hight is the extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County. Contact him at 910-798-7666.