Wild Things…
The Garden in Fall
By Karen Vizzi
    There are late bloomers in my garden still struggling to keep the symphony of color playing. Joe Pye weed, pineapple sage and zinnias are still blooming. But the clock is ticking down and it’s time to put the garden to sleep for the winter.
     A welcome aspect of the wild garden is the low maintenance. I avoid any intense clean-up activities in the fall, and I’m extremely careful when I clean up in the spring. I don’t want to disturb any habitat that may help a critter survive the winter. For example, seeds, berries and insects are critical food sources for songbirds that are now plumping up for the cold days ahead. Most butterflies and other important insects have found their places to rest as well. Overworking the garden at this time of year may disturb this process. However, there are a few things to consider doing right now. 
     It may be a little late to transplant perennials at this point, but it really depends on the weather. The key to fall transplanting is that the move is made well in advance of the ground freezing. Cold air and snow will not harm a hardy plant, as long as the ground stays warm enough for the roots to recover after it’s moved. If we have a reasonably mild November, transplanting now has a good chance of being successful. The general rule of thumb is to transplant spring and early summer bloomers in the fall …and late summer and fall bloomers in the spring. The late bloomers have just spent a lot of energy producing flowers and may not be able to handle the stress of a move. So avoid transplanting things like chrysanthemums, Japanese anemones and late-blooming hosta. If you decide to take a chance on moving a spring bloomer, then be sure to dig the new hole much larger than needed for the existing plant to allow the roots to settle quickly. Back fill with loose soil, keeping it well watered for several days.
     Gardeners are dreamers and we’re always looking ahead. So it’s also a great time to think about next year. When I want to build a new flower bed, I don't actually DIG a new flower bed. My back won’t survive it. I do what's called in situ composting or composting on the spot. Roughly outline the shape of the bed with flour or baking soda. Then start throwing all the organic material you can find into that spot. Grass clippings, shredded leaves and all the old potting soil from containers and window boxes are readily available and make a great start. Don’t add bones or meat scraps… only vegetable matter and be sure that anything you add is soft and in small pieces. Whole plants, branches and woody materials may not decompose by spring. Build the pile high, keep it moist and it should be ready to plant by late spring!
     Finally, the best thing you can do for your garden and your sanity in the fall is to make a map. I’m not talking about advanced cartography, just a plain piece of paper with a rough outline and a bunch of circles with plant names. Because I allow so many plants to self-seed, there is always a brief moment of chaos and panic when things begin to grow in spring. Having some idea of what is growing where brings composure to the scene. It also helps keeps my spending under control while browsing the myriad of seed and plant catalogs that keep me busy during the winter months.
    BIRD BRAINERS: A brush pile is an excellent addition to the wild garden in winter. Brush piles provide shelter for birds… protecting them from icy winds and a place to hide from predators. Find a location with a warm southern exposure and create a pile with all those limbs, branches and large twigs. It doesn’t have to be structured or neat, but be sure not to offend any neighbors!
    BUTTERFLY BULLETS: Consider planting some milkweed for the monarchs in next year’s garden. In addition to providing nectar for many species, milkweed is the only plant in this area that the monarch uses to lay eggs. You can find seed pods along many roadsides now.
    LET IT BE:  Raking is tough on the back! Running a mower over the leaves instead makes great mulch and a terrific soil amendment.

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