I always lament garden centers and nurseries when they wind down come August and start pushing mums. Mostly those stupid mums that are all petal and no pollen or nectar. Nurseries are wasting the best time to garden in any part of the year, and I always feel they could do a lot better job marketing and educating about the benefits of fall gardens and planting. I suppose the public may be too engrained with spring, the desire to express awakening from winter with spring flower shopping. It’s silly.
Gardening in cooler, often wetter fall weather is less stressful for humans and the plants being torn from their cozy containers and thrust into real soil. I wait to plant and divide until at least October and keep going through Thanksgiving – I sometimes don’t even water my plants when I dig them and they come back fine in spring. In fact, fall-planted anything will come back nicely next year and not have to struggle (nearly as much) with heat as stuff you plant in spring or summer.
You know why else fall is the best time of year? Growing your own plants. I stopped buying plants about two years ago (sure, I bought some this summer, but only to support my local native plant nurseries). Last week I seeded an old 5×10’ veg bed with 7 species of prairie flowers. I used the cut down stems of butterfly bush (eradicated that wasteful plant) to mark the area for each species, than sowed seed I collected from my garden – wild senna, liatris, milkweed, boneset, and more. All those seeds need weeks and months of cold, damp weather to germinate next May. Easy gardening. Free plants.
I’ve prepped 20 large black plastic pots as well. I ripped up some lawn out front – to be seeded with a shortgrass prairie mix – and placed a layer or two of upside down sod in the bottom of each plastic pot. Then I dumped a mix of my clay soil and compost on top. I’ll sow those pots this week or next, and place them around my garden so they catch good snowfall. Bam.
Why else is fall fantastic? Perennials with fall color that rival the best trees and shrubs. Milkweed, coreopsis, ironweed, joe pye weed, liatris, coneflower, grasses, wild senna, and so many more get reliable and fantastic foliage color this time of year. This gives me a massive wash of color in the garden both near the ground and higher up in tall trees and shrubs – it’s like walking through a rainbow, and the gold you find at the end are seeds to sow yourself, unless the birds beat you to them.
Leave up the garden so it’s healthier and weathers winter better. Gather seeds. Watch the leaves turn color. Plant in the best weather of the whole year. Then watch wildlife come in for the seeds and shelter (every time I step outside 30 birds lift from my garden!). Know that in the detritus on the ground are overwintering insects and amphibians, all kinds of life in hibernation. The fall garden is the true wildlife garden, a gardener’s garden. Go outside and play!
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