Relax, It's Fall

Above: Skippers are in the same family as butterflies and moths, and most people think of them as butterflies. Orange-and-brown, they often rest with their forewings and hindwings at different angles, making them look a bit like upside-down paper airplanes. They’re also easy to identify by their “skipping” style of flight. Skippers tend to show up in large numbers in fall; they’re so friendly that they will let you get quite close, and will even land on you as you work in the garden. Like many other Lepidoptera, they make use of weeds such as the bull thistle shown in the photograph as a source of food. Photo by Bruce Marlin via the Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons license.

FALL CLEANUP? NO WAY! As a wildlife-friendly gardener you are free to enjoy autumn in the garden with little or no guilt about chores left undone. In fall, nature is busy making preparations for winter, and most maintenance chores merely interfere. It's a perfect excuse to find yourself a comfortable perch and enjoy the last warm days and lovely flowers.

Here are a few things the wildlife-friendly gardener does not need to do in fall:

Weeding: Well, ok, you can. But weeding is likely to interfere with the butterflies (or their caterpillars or the chrysalides in which they change from caterpillars into butterflies) you spent the spring and summer trying to attract, so why not put it off?

Cutting back dead stems: A no-no in the wildlife-friendly garden, removing dead stems destroys shelter that various creatures need in winter, as well as food from seed heads.

Raking dead leaves: What? Dead leaves are nature's fertilizer and mulch for trees and shrubs. Why would you take that away? Besides, dead leaves provide cover for spiders and other invertebrates, which birds often rely on for winter food.

Pruning: Once again, you're just removing shelter animals will need during the winter months.

Removing stumps, dead trees, brush, fallen branches and logs, or rocks: See above.

Filling wet spots, alter drainage patterns, divert or impound water, or re-channel streams: In my view, this is a mistake in any season, but you're really asking for trouble if you do this sort of thing going into the wet months.

Anything involving pesticides: Butterflies are insects, too. Anything you do to kill insects in the garden may very well kill butterflies, or their caterpillars, including use of Bt. Besides, birds need insects for food.

Mowing the lawn: If you have a lawn, you must mow it. But that, in my view, is a good reason to not have one. If that's too radical a suggestion, at least for now, do keep in mind that mowing can kill snakes, frogs, and other creatures that might be hiding there. The caterpillars of many skippers feed on grasses, for example. So consider letting your grass stay as long as possible.

What can you do? As the days grow short, we say goodbye to many garden friends. Some, like chipmunks, will probably be back again in spring. Others, like almost all the bumblebees, will die come first frost. For me, this is an ideal season for reflection. This is a good time to recall that nothing is perfect, or should be. The wildlife-friendly garden may not be perfect in the sense of “perfectly tidy,” but it offers abundant beauty. There is the glimpse of deep red Clematis "Niobe" blooms glowing in a patch of sunlight the plant has twined upward to reach. There is the joy of seeing a red-striped garter snake sunning on a gravel path, or hearing the flutter of a small brown wren searching for insects in a pile of brush. There is the freedom that comes with giving up ideas about how things should be and learning, instead, to enjoy them as they are.

1 comment:

jodi said...

I'm back from my adventures. Lowell says at least 3 dozen monarchs hatched while I was away (there were seven or eight the day I was leaving, and we saw a few of them emerge.)
We do some cleanup here, but mostly to get rid of weeds that are emerging now, like winter annuals and some perennials. Lots of seedheads and winter interest plants so cleanup is kept to a minimum. I'm going to try corn gluten meal next spring as a pre-emergent herbicide for some of the bad weeds like chickweed and kale, just in the borders. I'm told it works well and doesn't affect already-growing plants.