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Seasons of Backyard Conservation: Fall

That evening chill is back.

Leaves are beginning their annual change from green to shades of yellow, orange and red.

And pumpkin spice-flavored goodies dominate local menus, ads and social media feeds.

Yes, autumn has returned to Northeast Ohio. And with this change of seasons comes exciting opportunities for backyard conservationists to improve soil health, provide wildlife and pollinator habitat, and protect water quality.

Prepping Garden Beds for Winter

Flowers, grasses and other landscape plants continue to provide benefits once they have finished flowering and dried out or died back for the winter. These benefits range from food sources to living spaces for birds, pollinators and other wildlife. Resist the urge to pull or cut back vegetation as long as you can (ideally until next spring!). If you must do some trimming, be sure to leave roots intact and as much of the stems in place as you can, and leave as much of the cuttings as you can in the garden bed. In addition to the wildlife benefits mentioned above, these add beneficial nutrients, including carbon, to the soil as they decay. The only caveat is diseased plants or plant material - those you want to remove and dispose of in the trash.

Managing Leaves

Mulch leaves with a lawn mower instead of raking them up or blowing them to the curb. Leaves provide nutrients and much-need organic material for your soil. Even if you have more leaves than your mower can handle, leave a layer on the ground when you rake that you can mulch when you mow.

Never dump leaves in the creek – the same nutrient-generating decomposition process that is so great for your soil can severely unbalance the nutrient cycling in streams, especially smaller headwater streams, leading to low oxygen levels, nasty odors and even fish kills. Even dumping leaves next to the creek or on the streambank can smother and kill existing beneficial vegetation whose roots help to stabilize the streambank.

New Plantings

Fall is a great time to plant new trees or shrubs. Cooler temperatures are less stressful to the newly planted trees. Root systems get time to develop before the heat of summer. And since trees are transitioning into a period of dormancy and aren’t experiencing much active growth, the transplant stress won’t directly or immediately impact growth. All this sets your new tree up for success the following spring and summer.

Blog Author: Jared Bartley, Senior Program Manager - Education & Watersheds

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