Fall Leaves

Fallen leaves provide an important overwintering site for a wide variety of wildlife.

The weather is cooling down and local plants and animals are beginning to start their winter arrangements. It is also an important time for the landowner, as there are some important steps in order to get your garden and property in shape for the winter.

In general, fall is the perfect time to strengthen your plants and help them repair any damage brought about through the taxing heat and dryness of the summer. This will give your landscape a better chance to make it through the winter with minimal stress, adding to the vigor and appearance of your garden in the following spring and summer.

Grass lawns greatly benefit from some basic maintenance during the fall. Fallen leaves will starve your lawn of light, and if left for too long, it can lead to weakened or even dead spots in your turf. Rake off the leaves that blanket your lawn; however, since fallen leaves are an important overwintering site for a wide variety of wildlife, make sure to keep them on your property wherever possible.

Tucking piles into the far-flung corners of your property is usually a good way of providing this habitat while keeping leaves away from your precious grasses. Leaves can also be put to use in your garden beds as a light mulch that quickly breaks down, enriching your soil with the nutrients that are locked inside.

The fall is also a good time to fertilize, aerate and reseed your lawn, giving it plenty of time to grow before winter sets in. As the weather cools, cutting your grass a bit shorter than normal (around 2.5-3 inches) helps prevent fungal outbreaks in the cool and damp of fall.

If you have some plants that are itching to get into the ground, early fall is often a good time to find them a new home. Planting in the fall usually avoids damage from the dangerous heat of the summer and allows plants a few months to establish their roots before winter. Bulbs especially appreciate being planted in the fall.

Speaking of bulbs – if you have some crowded clumps that are starting to lose their vigor, divide them in the fall by cutting the clumps with a sharp spade. Replant the resulting chunks with space between each other, and you will be surprised at the speed and tenacity with which they explode forth in the spring.

Many plants begin to succumb to disease as the weather gets cooler, especially those prone to powdery mildew. Prune any ailing branches or leaves and destroy them away from the garden in order to help prevent the spread of any disease.

This should be the extent of your fall pruning. In fact, the fall is one of the worst times to prune most trees and shrubs as they are beginning to conserve their energy reserves for winter and fall pruning can encourage doomed growths around the cut location. Sharpen your shears and instead wait until late winter or early spring for any necessary pruning. In general, the best time to prune a plant is right after it has bloomed.

Starting these cold weather chores early will make your garden winter preparations much easier in the long run. In addition, make sure to keep a close eye on your gutters and keep them free of debris during the leafy deluge of the fall.

If you have an attic or crawl space, now is also a good time to make sure any openings are covered with hardware cloth or a similar heavy duty mesh. This will help deter local wildlife from making a winter retreat out of your house.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. He can be reached at brannen.basham@gmail.com.