Fall has always been known as the time to seed or re-seed your yard grass for a better established lawn the following spring, but did you know this applies to many other types of plants? This is especially true for wildflowers. All year long flowering plants in the wild bloom and sprout, then drop their seeds in late summer or early fall. Just like you do for your lawn, only Ma Nature does the seed broadcasting and mulching. If its your property, however, its probably going to be your job.
Hearty varieties of wildflowers, which bloom in mid-summer, "go to seed" (meaning they drop their seeds as the blooms die) as fall approaches and either sprout before winter prohibits, or wait until spring. This all depends on the arrival or severity of winter. In other words, the seeds know what to do. Its a little different in a controlled environment such as your landscaping. Here, you'll have to take charge and do the work nature was designed to do.
One big advantage of fall planting is that its usually more relaxed than spring planting. Generally, except in the Pacific Northwest, you don't have to worry about timing your seed planting between rains, or have to adhere to a tight planting timetable. Just plant before the ground freezes. The weather in the fall is really more predictable than in spring.
Fall planting has one other advantage. The weed seed content in the soil is unpredictable. If your seed planting is delayed until spring, the weed seeds have had all winter to prepare and may begin to sprout with a little more muscle. But, if you sow your seeds now, they'll be on a level playing field and can start to sprout along with the weeds in spring. Sow now and show those pesky weeds who's boss!
Now is also the time to mulch your vegetable garden. This is good for many reasons. In addition to providing a "blanket" of protection over the root systems, it insulates and discourages winter growth of weeds and grasses where you don't want them. Also, mulching helps in reducing the evaporation of precious water, while keeping the area protected against winter storms. And this, in turn, helps ensure against soil erosion.
Winter mulching is a little different than normal, though. The best materials are sawdust, peat moss, tree bark and, if you can believe it, newspaper! Root plants—carrots, beets rutabagas, turnips and onions—make the best use of this mulch, but watch the soil. Tree bark and sawdust take nitrogen from your soil, and you should check in mid spring or before replanting. One or two inches of mulch is sufficient. Also, hand dig down to the soil from time to time to check the moisture content. Dry soil may prohibit growth or even kill the plants through the winter months, whereas moist soil under the mulch promotes healthy plants.
Spring sunlight will warm the mulch rather than the soil, so you should remove it (using a spade or hoe) as soon as is reasonable. This depends on where you are, obviously, but should be done when you're certain the sun is there to stay for a while. This allows the sun to warm the soil, not the mulch, and allows you to plant much earlier and seeds do better when planted in unmulched soil.
Finally, rotate your crops. This simply means to not plant the same fall and winter vegetables in the same spot they were planted in the summer ... or even last winter. This is critical as the soil may be weakened and may attract the some diseases and insects to weaker plants with less nutrients. If you are using root crops, vegetables and natural plantings such as wildflowers to enhance or be a part of your landscaping—a most excellent idea, to be sure—use what fall and winter have to offer to strengthen and boost your seedling's health.
Durand Demlow is a commercial designer, home remodeler and website developer. His knowledge and career has given him the experience to create a website focused on helping do-it-yourselfers and homeowners with free landscaping, remodeling and decorating ideas. His website, RemodelQuickTips.com is an ever-changing resource of DIY concepts and advice.
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