The Fall season has quickly turned to colder temperatures here in Minnesota. Which gets us all in a frenzy as we prepare our outside spaces for the snow and cold that is to come. Every year it takes a minute to remember all that needs to be done, especially in our gardens. We thought we would share how we get our garden ready for the winter. This will not only guarantee that everything lasts as long as it should, but also that starting in spring is easy.
Of course, raking is not a new phenomenon, and one that does not often get missed from year to year. But we want to share some insight and options on those beautiful piles of leaves. There has been a post going around the internet saying to keep the leaves as is due to the eggs and such that butterflies and other insects have laid in the debris. The post states that the leaves allow new butterflies to hatch in the spring as well as food for the birds during the winter. There is some truth to this; but if you are anything like us, the thought of keeping the leaves in our yard to get covered by inches, if not feet, of snow makes your skin craw. We need to consider some alternatives.
-Create a pile in one corner of your yard to put the leaves. This not only moves them to a single location; it also creates a little compost pile that can be used in the spring for extra nutrients for your raised beds or flowerpots.
-Use your leaves as mulch. This is a great, natural way to limit the number of weeds that make it into your garden. By using mulch, you limit the amount of light that reaches the ground which hinder weeds from popping up. Plants need light to grow, mulch keeps the light out. This is also why we aren’t fans of leaves in our yard. It kills all the plants, not just those you don’t want. There is a reason there are not lush grassy patches in forests.
These two options allow for the leaves to remain in nature and provide all that they need to for the ecosystem without causing unnecessary damage to your grass. If neither of these options are feasible, don’t feel bad about it. See if your city offers a yard waste pickup that will take the leaves to be composted as opposed to the landfills.
It may seem like the perfect time to pull those dead stalks of wildflowers or hosta blossoms, but for the same reason as the leaves, it is best not to. Not only do butterflies use the debris as a place to lay eggs, bees use the stalks of the dead plants in the same way. They will lay eggs in a hollowed-out stalk, cover the ends with mud, and come spring new bees will find their way out. Depending on the types of plants it may also provide food to bunnies and other small creatures that take what they can get in the winter.
If you are looking to plant wildflowers or grass, fall is the perfect time to start seeding, the seeds will stay dormant throughout the cold season. Once the snow begins to melt and the ground begins to thaw the seeds will use this water to begin growing. Wildflowers are meant to return year after year without the help of humans. So, they have actually adapted to require that dormant stage. Grass is the same way. Also, it is cool to see them popping up in the spring without having to put in any work.
We really only have one thing to say about yard tools and equipment. Get it out of the snow. Nothing takes a toll on tools more than snow and the freeze/thaw cycle that comes with the season. If you take the time to put it away now it will save you a trip to the store in the spring when you have to buy a new one (shovel, hose, lawn chair, etc.)
It is hard to know what to take care of in the fall and what is best left until spring. We hope this helps clarify why and serves as a little reminder of all the little things we almost forget. Just know that it is easier putting the table umbrella away now before it freezes to the stand (we may know this from personal experience). If it is meant to be in nature than it is probably safe to keep it as is. Likewise, if it is a man-made item, it may need a little help getting through the cold temperatures. Our time in the garden is magical even as we put it to rest for the season. Enjoy those last couple hours and know that spring will come again.