By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local
Jose German is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.
It is not the end of the gardening season but the beginning of a transformation that will guide us through the winter and into the spring. Nature is taking a much-needed break to get stronger and resurrect with vibrant energy and colors in the spring. For those of us who have created a wildlife habitat in our yards, we know that business in the garden will continue as usual, with some exceptions. Birds will be coming every day to our yards for food, water, and shelter, while other beneficial wildlife will be dormant until next spring.
REFLECT AND PLAN THE NEXT SEASON
Fall should be a time of reflection about what worked and what did not work in the garden. It is also an opportunity to redefine your garden or start a new garden project for the next season. From the economic point of view, starting a new garden in the fall is cheaper than during the gardening high season. It also has the advantage of being the best time to plant deciduous trees.
Planting a garden in the fall will also allow you to see the garden thriving from the spring to the fall. During the planning process, take time to reflect about nature as a system that provides a sense of structure, interconnectivity, coherence, and reliability for those wise enough to see it as a model for life.
Let’s internalize that we are an essential component of this structure. Work with, not against, nature: the benefits of right plant, right place.
Your yard is unique and even has its own microclimates. The quality of the soil, as well as the natural moisture and the amount of light that your yard receives in a regular day, could be different from your neighbor’s. When selecting plants, you should not only pay attention to the shape and color but also to the conditions affecting the plants. This includes moisture (wet soil, semi-dry, or dry) and light (full sun, partial shade, or shade).
When you select the right plant for the right place, you provide ideal growing conditions and several things happen:
- Plants establish quickly, grow stronger, and reproduce.
- Plants produce healthy root systems and abundant foliage.
- Plants are stronger and healthier to resist attacks by insects and diseases.
Careful garden planning is the key to success and will save money and time.
SOIL: THE CORNERSTONE OF YOUR GARDEN
In a previous article, I mentioned how very often I hear friends say, “I don’t have a green thumb,” but their thumbs would be greener with good garden soil. Plants need specific soil types to grow their best. A nice thing about soil is that you can change it by adding amendments. For instance, you can make slow-draining clay soil more porous and faster-draining by adding organic matter, like compost, or you can incorporate a completely different soil type in your landscape with raised beds.
OUTSMART PROBLEM WILDLIFE
Most gardeners experience some “critter” issues in their yards. Some problem wildlife, such as groundhogs, raccoons, rabbits, or deer, can wreak havoc with even the best-laid garden design. While you may not win every battle, you can outsmart the animals. Hardscaping, like a fence, can provide a physical barrier to limit problem wildlife’s access to gardening areas. Selecting plants that are repellent to some predators helps to naturally control unwelcome garden guests.
Practical things to do:
LEAVE THE LEAVES!
I recently saw a poster that says: “Leave the leaves!” Nothing is better for your garden than preserving the leaves in your yard. If you are concerned about the appearance of your front yard, you can collect the leaves in your front yard, and save them to be used next spring as mulch in your flower beds. Since the back is usually not too visible from the street, leave the leaves there and postpone your cleanup until the spring. Leaving dry plants in the flower beds adds interest during the winter, and if they had flowers, some birds would like their seeds. A lot of insects and local butterflies stay in the area cocooning on dry plants and leaves until the arrival of the spring. Removing the plants and leaves means killing these overwintering insects.
Remember that leaves also feed earthworms and beneficial microbes and help sandy soil to retain moisture. In addition, leaves are a great source of carbon to balance the nitrogen in your compost pile. Most importantly, fallen leaves have the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties of shredded wood mulch – and they are free! Let nature be nature, and do its part.
CONTRACTED LANDSCAPE SERVICES
If you have contracted landscaping services for your home, this is the season to make important environmental decisions. If your landscaper is using chemicals that are poisonous and harm the environment, you can ask them to stop the practice. There are eco-friendly alternatives they can use to suppress unwanted weeds and nonbeneficial insects that would harm your garden.
You can also negotiate a better and more efficient way to mow your lawn. If you ask your landscaper to mow your lawn weekly during the spring and biweekly during the summer, you will save a significant amount of money in your garden maintenance. Less use of gas-powered mowers means less air pollution and a reduction in your yard maintenance costs.
Visualizing your future garden or garden projects during the barren winter months can be an inspiring relief from seasonal doldrums. Hopefully, with these guidelines you will have a plan of action ready for when the spring thaw begins.