Fall Garden Task Checklist
October 06 2022 – Kelly LaVaute, Staff Member
The weather may be cooler, but fall is a great time to plant! Warm soil and reliable autumn rainfall make for ideal planting conditions for perennial native plants. Since native plants are well suited to your area’s soil and weather, and can provide benefit to wildlife throughout winter, there’s only a few tasks to manage in the fall.
CONSIDER REPLACING LAWN OR ANNUALS WITH NATIVE PLANTS
Replacing conventional lawns can save time and money that you would normally spend on mowing and fertilizing grass. Native plants require much less maintenance than turf grass. Reducing your lawn in favor of densely planted garden beds helps minimize water runoff too. Choosing native plants that are adapted to regional rainfall and soil moisture content is a great way to conserve this precious resource.
LEAVE THE LEAVES
With the arrival of fall, you shouldn’t feel obligated to get rid of every last fallen leaf in your yard. Leave the leaves — they offer a lot of benefits for wildlife and your garden.
“Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own? Turning leaves into solid waste is, well, wasteful,” said National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski. “Removing leaves also eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to songbirds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring. Also, sending organic matter such as leaves to the landfill causes the release of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. Best of all, the less time you spend removing leaves, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and the wildlife that visits your garden.”
Learn more about what to do with fallen leaves.
MULCH & COMPOST
If you are leaving the leaves, you’re ahead of the game! From a gardening perspective, fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and at the same time fertilize the soil as they break down. If you let leaves lie where they fall or move them into your garden beds, they will protect your plants’ roots, suppress weeds, preserve soil moisture and eventually break down and return nutrients to the soil.
In this “off season,” you might also be lucky to find mulch on sale near you. A layer of mulch or compost can help your plants better retain moisture, and hold down weeds.
TRIMMING & DEADHEADING
Deadheading faded flowers and cutting back stems prevents plants from reproducing and can eliminate habitat for overwintering bees, caterpillars and other wildlife. If you can, leave some stems for the wildlife to utilize.
To add seasonal interest and provide food and shelter for wildlife during fall and winter, here are some tips for maintaining some of the late summer blooming plants in our collections:
- Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa): Leave final late summer bloom seed heads for birds.
- Red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica): Leave old flower spikes to help with reseeding for more bloom next year.
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): Allow the stalks and seed heads to remain all winter, they will provide structure in the garden and foods for birds and other wildlife.
- Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckias): Cut low for winter after birds have had their seeds.
PREPARE SHRUBS FOR WINTERWhile you’re enjoying the stunning shades of bronze, reds, and oranges from the foliage of your deciduous native shrubs, help them prepare for the colder temperatures of fall and winter. Add a layer of mulch to protect the roots from harsh weather, taking care that the mulch does not touch plant stems. Most native shrubs like Azaleas and Carolina Rose do not typically require pruning. However, you can prune dead, diseased, or damaged branches at any time, including in fall.
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Hi Judith, same thing we have up here in my cute farming village of Pemberton BC Canada – the ridge behind my house when we moved in 5 years ago brought all sorts of wildlife to my backdoor, and the bird population was epic especially after I added bird feeders to my trees! Then a big developer bought the ridge and it looks like a war zone: most trees cut down, hardly any birds left and now the raccoons are coming in since the bears and coyotes had to find new homes… they say they leave Green Spaces, but they don’t, there isn’t a tree left on the ridge. So just wait until the heavy rains come, their massive retaining walls looks like eye sores instead of what should be help up by trees… Everyone wants to put up their second or third luxury home on the ridge now.
This is just the information I need to take to other members of the Grounds Committee in our neighborhood! Thank you so much for another great article, Dave.
Do we leave sunflower heads out for the birds or remove seeds for them?
If you have a balcony start a garden! and feed the birds.
Thank you for this article. As more and more people move into the forest along Austin Creek from the cities they not only immediately cut trees down on their property and put up fences but bring in weekly gardeners who rake up every leaf from the forest floor, put it all into plastic bags and haul everything off to the dump. Our wildlife was once plentiful but the habitat is disappearing along with the food sources. Thirty years ago wildlife was abundant and we lived in a rain forest. Watching the deforestation has been heartbreaking. The ridges are clear cut and the vineyards have not only taken water but have poisoned it. I still love my home but am crushed at what we have witnessed happen here. Rodenticides are killing our raccoons, Bob cats and mountain lions. I haven’t seen possum here for decades. I have always left leaves and seeds to replenish the forest and wildlife. OMG!!!
Then there are all the outdoor cats in the area!!! Our ground nesting birds such as quail, Towhee and Junco have taken a huge hit. We once had thousands of quail but now the covey is down to less than 25!!!
Thank you for all the great info. It is fascinating to learn all about habitats in your own yard. I moved from Hawaii to Colorado and enjoy the squirrels, raccoons and birds in my backyard. I will put a pumpkin out today and look forward to hours of fun!