The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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Fall Checklist for the EcoBeneficial Landscape

Now that fall is here, is your landscape in good order?  Following some simple steps can prevent or lessen the impacts of a harsh winter, and lay the groundwork for best results in the spring.

Fall Checklist – 15 Steps to Ecological Health

1) If you have plants to be planted, it may be too late.  Newly-planted plants should be in the ground 6 to 8 weeks before hard frost occurs.  Most plants do well with fall planting, but wait until spring to plant broad-leaved evergreens, like rhododendrons, and some spring-blooming trees, like magnolias.

2) If you have plants to be moved or divided, the season of bloom will be your determining factor.   Spring and early summer bloomers are best moved in the fall; late summer and fall bloomers are best moved in the spring.

3) Water any newly-planted plants until hard frost occurs (if at all, in your area).  You want these plants to go into winter as healthy as they can be. They will reward you in the spring.

4) Label any plants that you are thinking about moving in the spring.  It can be very difficult to identify plants when you are looking at a tiny little sprout.  Zinc plant labels are durable, but make sure to use a nursery pen or printed labels that are weatherproof.

5) Look for signs of drought stress in your landscape.  Are any plants flagging ? Drought stressed trees, especially mature trees, can often be hard to read.  If you have experienced a dry summer and/or fall, consider some periodic, supplemental watering until hard frost to protect valuable plants.  In addition to watering, consider applying a biostimulant to stressed woody plants.  Make sure to follow the instructions, and always water in well.

6) You may have run out of time to plant.  If so, overwinter pots of unplanted perennials or woody plants. Plants must be hardy to your region to successfully overwinter outdoors.  Your goal for overwintering?  Insulating plant roots against cycles of freezing and thawing.  Sink pots into holes in the ground, or surround them with mulch above ground.

7) Prune out any dead or diseased wood in your trees and shrubs for best plant health.  Check for green wood to make sure you aren’t cutting out healthy twigs and branches.  In much of the country, fall is not a good time for harsh pruning or aesthetic pruning that may stimulate tender, new growth at the wrong time of year – before a killing frost.

8) Don’t apply fertilizer without first identifying a soil deficiency.  If you have planted the right plant in the right place and have used native plants, you don’t need to fertilize.  Do a soil test to figure out where you stand.  Ignore the big fertilizer manufacturers that try to convince us that we must fertilize on a schedule.  If you do have a soil deficiency, use slow-release, organic fertilizers.  Avoid salt-heavy synthetic fertilizers that can be very damaging to plant roots in a dry fall.

9) Apply compost to your garden beds in the fall.  An inch or two of good quality compost gives a healthful “ biology boost” to your soil.  Make sure the compost is not steamy or smelly, whether you make it or buy it. After applying, water the compost in.  If you are mulching, you can mix mulch and compost together, or, simply apply mulch on top of compost.

10) Leave your perennials and grasses standing through the fall and winter.  These plants are resources for wildlife, offering shelter, overwintering sites and often, food.  Cut back perennials and grasses in early spring, when soil is no longer wet, and insect activity has begun.  There is an exception – if you have diseased plants, cut them back now and dispose of the debris, but not in the compost pile.

11) Leave fallen leaves in place whenever possible.  Leaves are nature’s compost and mulch, and also offer overwintering sites for invertebrates and other critters that are part of healthy ecosystems.  A thick layer of leaves doesn’t work for the lawn, but it’s time to rethink that lawn, anyway!

12) What to do with the “Green Desert” – your lawn?  Consider how much lawn you really use and make a plan for the spring to replace unused lawn with ecologically-supportive native plants.  You might even plant a meadow or a prairie, depending on your region.  For any lawn that you do keep, try to manage it organically.  A helpful guide is The Organic Lawn Care Manual written by organic turf pro, Paul Tukey.

13) Provide a water source for birds.  In regions with freezing weather, set up a heated birdbath and be amazed by how many birds you will see using it.  If you’d like to help out small mammals, too, make the bird bath accessible by positioning it next a stone wall, etc.

14) Do a quick plant inventory to see if you are providing a succession of bloom in your landscape for pollinators.  Try to have at least 3 native plants in bloom for pollinators at any given time during the growing season.  Plan to fill in the “flowering gaps” with native plants in the spring. Not sure what to plant?  Refer to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center database where you can determine what is native to your area and when it blooms.

15) Assess the ecosystem that is your landscape.  Are you including the habitat and plant layers found in natural areas around you?  If you are in the Northeast, a forest ecosystem will likely be your guide – each different layer providing habitat and resources for different wildlife.  Plan to include any missing layers in the spring.


Happy fall! From Kim at EcoBeneficial!




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