Fall garden tips - pictures of flowers

Sustainable Fall Gardening

Sustainable Fall Gardening

Little Bits of Good

By Heather Cochrane

As we move into fall, it will be time to put your yard to bed before winter.  You can do it in a way that will actually help your yard’s environment and all of its residents. Maile Goldfinch on a sunflower plant
If you grow coneflowers or black-eyed Susans, leave some of the spent flowers on the plants rather than deadheading them, as this will ensure the plants come back next year.  The dead flowers are also a good source of seeds for some birds like goldfinches.


Mulch Your Leaves

As the leaves come down, rather than blowing them off the lawn or bagging them up, use your lawn mower to mulch them.  This will allow the leaves to decompose more quickly and subsequently provide nutrients for your lawn.  Leaves in your flower or vegetable gardens can be left as they provide several benefits:

  1. They will decompose and provide nutrients for your garden
  2. They can provide an insulating layer to protect your perennials from the temperature fluctuations we often experience in the winter
  3. That insulating layer also offers protection for various amphibians, worms, fungi, bacteria, arthropods, and insects, all of which keep your garden healthy.
Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak butterflies overwinter in leaf litter and wood piles, while many other butterflies lay their eggs in these spots for protection from the cold weather.

Let Microorganisms Do The Work For You

The emphasis on allowing things to decompose and return nutrients to the soil is intentional.  The various animals and microbes break down plant materials that have died, which returns nutrients to the soil.  The movement of these critters mixes soil layers together distributing the nutrients and aerating the soil.  Their waste acts as fertilizer. 


The various animals and microbes break down plant materials that have died, which returns nutrients to the soil.

Dr. Sue Grayston, a microbial ecologist and soil scientist, has studied forest soils around the world.  She and her teams have determined that one gram of forest soil can contain a billion bacteria, a million fungi, a thousand roundworms, and a hundred thousand protozoans.  In the September 2022 issue of National Geographic in which Grayston’s work was featured, she cited the importance of these organisms and the work they do:

We’d be buried knee-deep in litter if we didn’t have soil microorganisms.
Without them, life on Earth would cease.  
They could do fine without us, but we couldn’t do much without them.

While our lawns and gardens would not have the microorganism density of forest soil, we can take these steps which will increase the biodiversity and biological density of our soils, and ultimately save us time and money. If we let microorganisms and insects do their work, fertilizing becomes unnecessary, which is better for every living creature.

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