The maples are at their peak color. The frost that is forecast for this weekend may be the end of most of our maple’s leaves. Fortunately, the oak trees still have to change. I actually love the deep fall colors that oaks turn – the maples are bright and fiery, but the oaks are fall colors like pumpkin, cranberry, tan, brown, and rust. I love the smell of the fall foliage as the leaves drop off the trees.
It is also time to put the garden to bed for the winter. Most, but not all flowers have finished for the season. I often cut back many of the perennials in the fall to make spring clean-up a little easier, but there is sometimes a reason to remove certain foliage in the fall. Cutting back the iris and the day lilies prevents damaging insects from making a home in the perennial beds. Plants with stiff stems -like maidenhair fern and stiff goldenrod – are also cut back as they do not decay well over the winter and are hard to remove in the spring. Although I like to cut back many plants in the garden, it is also good to leave certain species standing. Native grasses, asters and goldenrods provide oil-rich seed for migrating bird species. These plants can also provide winter homes for dormant moths and butterflies. These insects overwinter as larvae and pupae in host plants and removing them all from your yard can reduce the numbers you will see the following year.
The best strategy for cleaning up your yard is to remove foliage from plants that are disease or insect prone. Remove damaged foliage where plant pests are suspected to be lurking. Leave plants standing with the seed heads on where you can as birds and beneficial insects need these standing dead plants for food and shelter. Other plants may have “winter interest”. Plants like marginal wood fern and Christmas fern are green for long periods into the fall. Big bluestem grass and little bluestem grass have nice form and color (they are reddish-brown) and look nice well into the early winter. Of course, another fall chore is to remove weeds from your garden. A good weeding can help eliminate some of those undesirable plants from your garden in the spring.