As 2019 begins to wind down, your list of autumn chores may be ramping up a bit. Raking leaves, cleaning the gutters and cutting firewood are typical activities in which many homeowners participate.
However, if you want to make your backyard a welcoming haven this fall and winter, maybe you can take a more laid back approach. Sleep in a bit and don’t worry about keeping up with your neighbors.
This time of year, some tidy gardeners are ready to snip the stems of perennials in the flower garden. However, seed heads of coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and other native wildflowers provide a smorgasbord for birds. In addition, native species of grasses make good forage after they go to seed. Letting other dead plants stick around can provide protein packed snacks for birds in the form of insect larvae.
If raking leaves just isn’t your thing, save yourself some time and backaches by skipping this chore. The leaves are important because they rot and enrich the soil. They also provide a place for bugs and birds to forage for food. For those of you who simply can’t take a complete hands off approach, consider composting some of the leaves while leaving some scattered across the landscape. Other options for the leaves are to rake them into your flower beds or mulch them with the mower to nourish your lawn. Fallen leaves also provide a habitat for lots of little critters such as salamanders, snails, worms and toads.
Oftentimes, a windy day not only knocks leaves off the trees, it also can dislodge some tree limbs. Rather than hauling off these branches, consider building a small brush pile that will shelter birds from bad weather and predators. It also can serve as a home to rabbits and other small wildlife. The pile will settle and decompose over the season, making room for next year’s additions.
As long as you aren’t keeping up with the neighbors when it comes to removing leaves from your yard, go ahead and skip the weed and feed mixtures. Grass clippings and mulched leaf litter provide plenty of plant nutrition. Store-bought fertilizers only encourage more nonnative plants to grow. Generally, these native grasses, shrubs, trees and flowering plants don’t need chemical inputs. You’re not only keeping your landscape attractive for bugs and birds, you’ll save a few bucks, too.
This time of year is good to hit the nursery for native shrubs and trees. It’s much more comfortable to work outside now than it is in the blistering heat of summer. Native dogwoods, hawthorns, sumacs and other flowering shrubs produce small fruits that not only feed the bird population during the cold months, but also provide a wonderful pop of color in the winter landscape.
David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with OSU cooperative extension.