Autumn, marked by cooler weather and shortening days as Earth’s axis begins to tilt away from the sun, transitions us from summer’s lush abundance to winter’s quiet dormancy, and refers in its origins to the passing of the year. Once commonly referred to as harvest, western cultures have lost that broader association with the land since becoming predominantly urban.
At the Reserve we are, of course, still very tied to nature and its rhythms, and are working on timely tasks dictated by the Earth’s rotation and the seasons it creates. Harvest, autumn or (the preferred term in the United States) fall, has us collecting those fallen leaves to shred for leaf mulch in beds and bare spots. While hardwood mulch is preferable for trails, we use leaf mulch elsewhere because it is naturally occurring, native to the location, produces a lower carbon footprint and helps build mycorrhizal fungi which symbiotically partners with plants to provide a secondary root system and sustainable nutrition .
Of course, weeding continues, but now is an especially important time to remove aggressive weeds before they produce seeds. Some of the problematic plants that you may want to keep an eye out for in your garden are Pennsylvania smartweed, garlic mustard, stilt grass, chickweed, henbit and dead nettle. Concurrently, we are also collecting and storing the seeds of the plants we prefer—non-invasive natives—which we will propagate later this year or next. Recently, we have been planting perennials, red spruce and plants rescued from nearby High Hampton Resort . In our turf areas, we have been aerating and over-seeding as regular annual maintenance for overall turf health and enhancement. We also had our soils tested recently to identify needs for optimal turf health in the next growing season, carefully adhering to our organic protocol.
Our water mitigation efforts continue along with the rain, and we have focused on erosion prevention. After working with Sitework Studios and Robinson Associates Consulting Engineers last spring to research and develop best practices for water mitigation, we have begun implementing recommended landscape treatments. First, we mapped the sites, and then began ground truthing the water as it traveled across the Reserve. We are monitoring both sheet and channel flow of rain water during storms to evaluate varying storm intensities and the effects on our landscape. The modifications include adding hydra humps with rock outlets, adding turf and rock swales, and altering existing swales to better direct the water. We are also constructing step pools and rock check damns within the swales to control water velocity. Finally, we are experimenting with large woody debris (LWD) in a subwatershed to slow sheet-flow across the landscape and prevent valuable soil and nutrient loss.
If you have not yet tended to any of these tasks relevant for your home and garden, there is still time. In preparation for the coming winter, we have some seasonal suggestions:
- Top dress trees, shrubs and perennials with a layer of composted or aged cow or horse manure. Doing this during the winter months enables the nutrients to stay in place longer and make their way down into the soil to the roots.
- Prune deciduous trees and shrubs. You can better see the branching structure in the winter. Additionally, dormancy prevents tissue regeneration until spring, meaning the plant will not suffer from energy loss or sap flow.
- Sow wildflower and other native plant seeds. This provides the cold period necessary for some seeds to germinate in the spring.
- Plant spring flowering bulbs that will generate roots and come up in the spring.
- Dig up dahlia roots after a frost or two and place them on top of mulch. Once the roots dry out, store them in peat moss inside cardboard boxes in a cool, dark location. They will be ready to replant in the spring after the last frost.
- Transplant trees, shrubs and perennials to preferred locations. Transplanting while dormant keeps plants from going into shock.
- Collect leaves from turf areas and move to wooded areas for compost. This is preferable to burning, which adds pollutants to the air and increases respiratory health issues.
- Prevent snow from accumulating on evergreen trees and shrubs to avoid bending and breaking of branches.
- Winterize any irrigation pipes that may be in danger of freezing.