Spring and Fall are my favourite seasons, and I always go back and forth about which one is my favourite. I adore the fall colours, cooler weather, and peacefulness of falling leaves. I feel as though all of nature is telling us to wind down.
There are a lot of things you can do in your garden in the fall to prepare for the next spring’s growing season. Here are some of the fall garden hacks I’ve learned!
Leave the Leaves!
I learned this one from the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green – leaving leaves instead of raking them is actually beneficial for so many reasons! Pollinators like butterflies and moths make their homes in leaves to overwinter. Leaf mulch is also very beneficial for enriching your soil for the next growing season. If you have perennials (most of my plants are! Because who wants to re-plant everything every single year??) leaf mulch is great for protecting them over the winter, and locking in moisture year-round.
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A reminder from my pup @poochy_peke.a.tzu and me: Leave your leaves! Brown, dead leaves are where butterflies begin as larvae. Many butterflies and moths overwinter in leaves as pupae. Do your part to help pollinators – by doing nothing to the leaves in your yard! Easiest action ever!
Plant seeds, perennials, and bulbs.
I have been learning more and native plants and how important they are for pollinators (read about how to create a butterflyway here), and I’m finding that many native plants have seeds that are better planted in the fall. This is because of a process called ‘stratification’. The seeds have a protective mechanism not to germinate until they go through winter weather. Most native plants go to seed near the fall, when winter is about to come. So, instead of germinating right away and growing into tiny plants that likely won’t survive the winter, they don’t germinate until AFTER winter, when they have a better chance of growing and surviving. Isn’t that COOL??
Isn’t it the perfect analogy for life? Sometimes we need to go through a period of winter and cold before we can wake up and grow!
If you’re wondering what plants are native to your area, check out this awesome resource from Pollinator Partnership! You can put in your zip code or postal code to find a guide for your region!
Planting other non-native perennials in the fall is also a great idea. It’s a perfect way to take advantage of greenhouse sales as they’re usually trying to sell all their plants, and many perennials will do well planted in the fall as long as you water them well before winter comes.
And of course – bulbs. I ADORE tulips, alliums, and daffodils. These are all bulbs that you can plant in the fall and wait for them to pop up to announce spring after winter!
If you like garlic, fall is also the time to plant garlic!
Water your younger perennials.
I didn’t know this before, but if you have shrubs, trees, and plants that you just planted in the spring, or a year or two ago, watering them well in the fall helps to protect them over the winter. Perennials work at developing their root systems in the fall, so watering well helps with that. Watering in late fall ensures that the roots have enough moisture when freezing temps hit. When watering late in the fall, give your plants a good slow soak rather than a quick spray with the hose.
The first seeds I harvested were peas and beans, because those were the easiest! Then I started learning about milkweed (the only food for Monarch caterpillars – more here) and I had so much fun harvesting seeds to share with friends and grow more milkweed! When your flower blooms start to die off, watch them to see when they go to seed – it’s pretty cool to see how different plants have different types of seeds! For example, I found that purple columbine seeds develop in little pods, and they easily shake out. Marigolds have little spiky seeds that form. Flowers that have a defined center typically form seeds in that centre – think coneflowers, blanketflower, meadow arnica, black-eyed susans (all of these are native plants in Edmonton). Some flowers have little tufty or fluffy things attached to their seeds so they are easily carried off by the wind.
I love to save seeds and then swap them with friends! If you’re harvesting seeds from native plants, or milkweed, then you can plant them right before the frost hits for that stratification power!
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I have been harvesting seeds from my native wildflowers as the blossoms dry up – I plan to plant them in the fall so hopefully I’ll get more plants popping up next spring!Harvesting seeds is pretty easy to do! It’s fascinating to me how different seeds are for different plants. Here I have: 1) Meadow Arnica (it’s a daisy-like flower, and the centre dries up to make the seeds), 2) Slender Blue Beardtongue (the black seeds fall out of the dried out pods), and 3) blanket flower/brown eyed Susan (similar to Arnica in that the flower centres become the seeds). My sweet peas have been producing well and I’m also letting some of them get “old” on the vine so I have seeds for next year. I love harvesting seeds because then I don’t need to buy them! Do you save seeds from your plants?
Add compost to your beds.
Adding compost to your soil in the fall helps to feed the microorganisms in the soil and get it ready for spring.
Take cuttings of annuals that you want to replant next season.
This is a new one for me – I figured any annuals that I buy will just die, and I have to buy new ones next spring. But! You can actually take cuttings of them, bring them inside to root, and grow your plants inside over the winter. Then you’ll have nice healthy plants to put back out in your spring garden! I tend to put mostly perennials in my garden because this seems like a lot of work… but I’m willing to try it for some of the few annuals I get because they’re so lovely! Passionflower and fuschia are two that I’m definitely going to try this with. Here’s a handy guide on how to take and root cuttings.