We have been trained to believe that the cooler temperatures mean a heavy dose of garden clean-up, but this doesn’t have to be the case! We talk all the time about leaving the leaves and dried perennials for the wildlife, but that doesn’t mean your landscape has to rival the Munster’s! Here is our Top 10 list of garden chores that will keep your neighbors and local wildlife happy.
We say save your back and leave the leaves, but there are plenty of reasons why you might not want to have a carpet of leaves covering your entire yard. Gently rake any leaves out of the main traffic area into your garden beds, or into a pile in the back corner of your yard. Mowing and using a leaf blower can destroy the cocoons of many over-wintering moths and butterflies, so try to avoid them if you can.
Use garden-friendly cleaners when giving your patio furniture a wash before packing away. Biodegradable solutions are key but be sure they are also rated as safe for the environment and use them as sparingly as possible. A properly diluted bleach solution is often the safest bet, as it degrades to a saltwater solution after a few hours in the sun and can be disposed of in your drain.
Use the water in your rain barrels to give your garden beds a good soaking before the frosts, and drain them completely. Again, a diluted bleach solution can be used to sanitize the insides once they are empty. If you don’t have indoor space to store them, turn them upside-down and leave any drains open. Hoses should be drained and either stored inside or you can coil them up inside the barrel. If you can’t turn the barrels over, leave those drains open and be sure to securely cover the tops to prevent water and wildlife from entering over the winter.
Hopefully you have been collecting seeds from your native plants as they become ready, but if not, now is the time! Harvest any seed heads that have dried on the plants, being sure to leave plenty for the birds! It isn’t advisable to cut back dormant plants in the Fall, but rather, leave them as they are! (we call that Winter Interest in the biz). If you must cut them back, be sure to leave at least 12-18 inches of the dried stems in place, and drop the spent seeds heads down onto the ground. These tops will decompose over the winter, improving the soil, providing bedding material for small creatures, and food sources for birds and small mammals alike.
Another typical Fall chore is to prune back dead branches from trees, to reduce damage from snow load. Now, if you have large dead branches that could cause injury or damage to your house should it come down, by all means, remove it. However, if you are trimming smaller branches primarily for the looks of things, please reconsider. Many creatures use dead and dying wood as a habitat, including our beloved bees, birds, and an array of important beings. Trim what you must, and make a brush pile out back. You will be providing habitat and safe spaces for the wildlife.
Use natural deterrents when you are closing up spaces for the winter. Use cedar blocks inside the grill and small spaces when you close them up, which will deter mice from making cozy home. Peppermint oil is said to also be a deterrent, you could soak small wood pieces or charcoal from your firepit in pure peppermint or cedar oil, leaving by any potential openings in your shed or garage. Speaking of openings, plug up any small openings dime-sized or larger with plain steel wool, which will prevent mice from chewing through. Avoid any pesticides or rodenticides, which not only poison the rodents, but also cause horrible damage to predators like owls, foxes, and bobcats.
Prepare for holiday decorating bysustainably harvesting dried flowers, native berry plants like winterberry, holly, and conifers. Use these natives in your outdoor décor so that you might enjoy them as well as feeding the wildlife. Fun crafts like pinecone bird feeders can be useful and decorative, and you won’t have more cleanup to do after!
Adjust your outdoor lighting schedule. Many bird species are migrating south now and bright nighttime lights have been proven to confuse them and disrupt proper migration patterns. Switch your outdoor lights to motion sensors, and only use landscaping lights when you are actively using your yard. Consider reducing the brightness and duration of holiday lights as well. Keep any necessary lights reflected down to the ground, and reduce the brightness to the lowest setting possible.
There are plenty of natural seed options for birds, but if you do put out feeders, be sure to practice good hygiene and clean them weekly. A water source is very important, so if you are able to keep a bird bath from freezing, be sure to replace it with clean, fresh water on a regular basis. If you have trouble with bears in your area, put the bird feeders away until they are hibernating, and then you can place them out again.
10. Last but certainly not least, learn to see the beauty in Nature’s cycle. Drying plants may seem ugly and out of place at first, but try to retrain your mind to seeing the good that leaving those plants will do for the wildlife in your yard. Embrace the idea of “winter interest” and get ready to see plenty of visiting birds and wildlife that you may never have seen before, visiting the natural habitat you have created for them.
We hope these tips have inspired you to step away from the rake and enjoy your wonderfully wild landscape.