The Garden in late Fall
Neatness freaks will want to go out and cut down every withered stalk and branch after the last killing frost.
That is the last thing an informed gardener wants to do. A recent walk I took at Lakeside Park explains why.
In their natural settings, plants such as Queen’s Ann’s Lace, Golden Rod and Wild Asters provide food for birds that overwinter. Their seeds are there for the taking and chickadees know this. I spied one recently alighting on an impossibly thin stalk that was loaded with seeds. By some miracle, this tiny but exquisite bird was able to balance himself on the weed and consume the seeds at one and the same time.
So, therefore, your garden can learn a lot from plants in their natural habitat which are not cut down, raked out and hauled away. In fact, these natural feeding “posts” provide other hidden benefits. Not only do they keep winter birds such as cardinals and chickadees in your yard but they also perform much better than bird feeders.
Why? Birds are sloppy. Perhaps 50% of the seeds on an artificial bird feeder get spilled on the ground. That encourages ground feeders such as mice, chipmunks and other garden pests to congregate eat and eventually, reproduce. Mice carry ticks and ticks carry Lyme’s disease. Chipmunks consider tulip and other bulbs to be caviar. The more of these “cute” little critters on your property, the fewer bulbs you will have in the spring.
However, there are other hidden benefits from leaving your garden in its natural state when winter arrives. If you go out into the yard one of these fine, mid-fall mornings, you will see an array of the most wonderful earth-tones imaginable – a true artist’s palette if there ever was one. Moreover, mixed in with a multitude of brown and honey shades, you will find various hues of green as not all foliage turns brown. As case in point are roses whose shrubs and canes keep their original color far into winter.
Also, by leaving your dried flower stalks behind (a splendid reminder of your past season’s successes), you will give character and beauty to the landscape when the first snows arrive. Not to mention the fact that letting the leaves decompose naturally, you are returning much needed nutrients to the soil. The intent of all of this is to create visual beauty in the off season and that makes your garden an all-year-long event that beckons visitors to stroll through its lanes and byways.
Tips for the week: Like it or not climate change is here. Some call it global warming but any good gardener in the last few years is now aware of a major change in the weather. Right now, it presents less as a temperature change and much more so as weather extremes. Witness this past winter with no snow. Or, in 2011, Hurricane Irene followed by the Halloween Storm of more than a foot of snow. Or, prolonged deluges and, more recently, mega storms such as Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps one of the worst aspects of these extremes is the tremendous damage caused by rising water. If your garden is near a river, stream, pond or lake, you should be using this shoulder period to figure out what steps to take so as to protect your landscape. Have you cleared debris from nearby streams and creeks? Have you erected barriers such as cinder block walls to hold back rushing water in areas that have proven vulnerable to flash floods. As for wind damage, have you reviewed your trees and large shrubs to see which are most likely to crash onto your home, car or garden arbors and statuary? Follow the electric line from the pole to the house. Is it obscured with overhanging branches or dangerously tilted leaders? Now is the time to consider cabling or trimming. What’s the old expression? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?