The Native Garden in the Fall
Vol. 20 Issue 3, Fall 2015
By Nan McCarry and Nancy Reaves, Audubon at Home Ambassadors
Did you know that fall is a good time to plant native trees, shrubs and perennials? Planting in the fall gives roots plenty of time to develop before the hot days of summer roll around. Typically, fall-planted perennials will reach their full size and flower the first summer after planting. Julie Borneman of Watermark Woods Native Plants in Hamilton loves planting in the fall. “The plants are preparing root growth for winter dormancy and the soil is warm in the fall.” She recommends not fertilizing transplants in the fall because it can stimulate vegetative growth at the expense of root growth. Julie also finds that there are fewer pests and diseases to deal with in the fall. Most insect larvae have metamorphosed by this time and disease-causing organisms are usually not as active heading into winter.
Alex Darr of Piedmont Regenerative Design in Lovettsville recommends planting in the fall after shrubs and trees have lost their leaves. “When plants have shed their leaves for the fall, transpiration (water loss from the leaves) does not occur, leaving more soil moisture available in the root zone for establishment.” According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, “The deeper into dormancy a woody plant is, the more easily it will recover from transplant shock.”
The cool days of fall can be a great time to be out in the garden whether planting, preparing your garden for the winter, or simply enjoying. When getting your garden ready for winter it’s not usually necessary to remove leaves or vegetation in the native garden. In fact leaving vegetation and fallen leaves can provide important benefits. Julie likes to remove some seed heads in the fall and sprinkle the seeds on the ground to encourage new plants to germinate in the spring. The rest of the seed heads she leaves to provide winter food for birds and other wildlife. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, insects on plants left standing in the garden will be a welcome food source for wildlife and the stems can help collect insulating snow around the plant, giving it extra protection. Native bees and other insects will winter over in the uncut stems, contributing to a healthy ecosystem. The stems can indicate where plants are located in early spring before new growth begins, and often look lovely in the winter snow.
Fallen leaves will provide insulation for the soil during the cold winter months, and help build strong soil communities. As the leaves slowly break down they will contribute organic matter and encourage a vital soil ecosystem, which will ultimately benefit your native plants.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center, www.wildflower.org
Plant Native, www.plantnative.org
Cornell University, www.gardening.cals.cornell.edu
Watermark Woods Native Plants, Hamilton, Virginia, www.watermarkwoods.com