Master Gardener, Bev Wagar writes:
I don't do much in the fall. I leave all the stalks and all the seed-heads (except when they are pesky re-seeders) for the insects to nest in. The plant stalks and leaves fall down and help insulate the plants against the wild temperature swings we get with global warming. This is especially important when there is no snow cover.Brenda Van Ryswyk has similar suggestions: "Do nothing!" this Natural Heritage Ecologist says.
Just leave things be is the best thing to do. Birds love to eat the seeds through the winter. Some bees will overwinter as larva in the old plant stems. Sweep/rake your leaves into a pile and leave them be; it's great mulch and butterflies and bumblebees may overwinter in it.
At the very least do not “clean up” your garden too much. Pollinators need some of the things we may consider “messy”. Old stems for the solitary bees to nest in, dried flower heads with seeds for the birds to eat (Goldfinch and Dark-eyed Juncos visit my garden for seeds on the plants all winter long).
Planting in the Fall?
Fall is a good time to plant since the soil is warm and stays warm far longer than the air. Plant roots need time to get established before freeze up, so I like to plant in September when there is far less heat stress for plants and, we hope, less drought stress too.According to Bev, any perennial, shrub, or tree, native or not, can be planted in the fall. In fact, plants can be moved or planted at any time, so long as:
- soil and air are suitably warm
- there is enough season left for the roots to establish
- they are planted properly
- they're given adequate and regular water for the first year.
Plants are always better off in the soil than in a nursery pot, even if the weather is hot. The advantage of fall over spring is the warm soil. In the spring, the days may be warm but the soil is cold.She advices to continue watering so long as the ground is not frozen, especially for newly planted trees and shrubs.
People buy plants from the garden center in the fall when they're on sale. Those plants have been sitting in pots all summer and by September or October the roots may be a congested mass-- completely pot bound. Tree roots may be circling so badly they will never recover. Since they're the "last ones picked" they're often not the healthiest. So these bargain plants are often under a ton of stress. Fall planting is better for stressed plants.
Shrubs certainly do not mind being planted with the fall.Native seeds
When it comes to other plants, the biggest risk is that they may get heaved out of the ground by the frost (because the pot soil is so different than the garden soil and the plant roots have not had a chance to grow in yet. So water well in the fall and check on them first thing in the spring to make sure they have not moved out of the ground.
With native seeds, Brenda says the best time to plant them is the fall!
Many of our native plants need the cold of winter to break their dormancy and trigger germination. Without the cold moist winter they don’t germinate. That is why some plants will not grow from seeds sown in the spring, they may germinate the NEXT year though. Some of our really tough ones need two winters before they may germinate! If your milkweed seed has not come up right away, don’t worry, it may come up next year.Do you want more tips on how to take care of your fall garden?
Your Fall Pollinator Garden: Workshop with RBG Gardener, Charlie Briggs.
October 15th @7pm HPL "Living Room" on the 1st floor. Register with Beatrice at firstname.lastname@example.org