September 14, 2023
The author resides in a zone 3 and 4 area.
Fall has arrived and the beautiful plants you nurtured in the spring are starting to get to the end of their cycles. Some are still holding fast but sooner than later these too shall finish up and it’s time to start thinking of how we can get things settled for winter.
Harvesting your seeds for next year is an ongoing fall chore as different plants will finish up at different times. Storing dried seeds in labeled coin envelopes with dates keeps your catalog well organized and keeps older seeds from current years. Seed exchanges in you community or at garden club meetings are a good opportunity to unload your extras and pick up some new varieties for next year.
In the past I have let some plants seed freely in the fall with mixed results. The poppy varieties have done great but echinacea, cosmos, malva, and some grasses have done too well. This can cause multiple shoots taking over next year where they aren’t wanted.
Some seeds sprout best when given the opportunity to freeze, cracking the seed coat for the spring. I have found that sowing tiny seeds in the fall can result in those same seeds being washed out by melting snow and rain and ending up growing in a clump on in the sidewalk cracks. You may find better results in storing them in the freezer, then string them indoors in the spring.
I’m still surprised to see people stripping their gardens down to the bare soil every fall. Those glorious leaves provide soil cover to prevent water and wind erosion, insulation for roots, hiding spots for beneficial bugs and nutrients for perennials. If you have access to compost, now is a great time to put it around your plants.
Some gardeners cut back their perennials one to two inches above the ground. Some leave the plant intact and stomp them down. This works well, but is added cleanup in the spring. If you have access to hay or straw….great! The long tubular shape traps snow, provides insulation, but is breathable. Be aware that crop straw and hay can carry some seeds that can challenge your small perennials the following spring.
Some people feed their gardens with a low dose of N.P.K. fertilizer, however a well-made organic compost provides carbon, nitrogen, and micro nutrients without the problems of excess nutrient runoff that damages waterways.
The best winter mulch is snow. The best way to keep perennials safe through the winter is to keep some stems and leaves to trap that snow. Leaving perennials such as rudbeckia, cone flowers, liatris, and aster provides winter homes and food for native wildlife. Dead stems function as nesting sited for pollinators in the spring. For larger plants and grasses that you want to cut down, bind them with twine first for easier clean up.
A great site to help figure out what to cut and what to leave is “43 Perennials to cut back in the spring” on The Spruce (www.thespruce.com)
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