Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lessons Learned from Fall Garden 2013

Fall is often the busiest time at Southern Meadows. This fall was spent digging lots of holes for all the plants that we purchased at the local plant sales and nurseries. We ordered a flatbed of rocks to finish some hardscape projects (for detail on this project see my post here) and started landscaping the flower beds in front of our new patio.

Purple Muhly grass plumes

But what I learned from my garden this fall is that despite all the things on the to-do list, I still need to take time for reflection and quiet in the garden. This is when I notice the little things that are the most important aspects of gardening when it comes to wildlife. What I observed this fall is that our efforts to support wildlife are finally paying off. The bird feeders were filled but remained untouched by the birds and squirrels because they were busy foraging in the landscape.

goldfinch feeding on swamp sunflower seeds

I saw wildlife in my garden that I never notice before like this yellow-shafted flicker;

yellow-shafted flicker

and, this brightly colored, marbled orb weaver.

marbled orb weaver spider, N.E. Georgia

I decided that its okay if I don't get around to harvesting all our fruits and vegetables because if I don't others will benefit too.

wasp feeding on fig

I also learned that butterflies can survive some pretty cold temperatures if they hunker down in the leaf litter or find refuge in bark, rocks or sheltered crevices.  A cold front moved in unseasonably early this year and took out most of the nectar sources for these butterflies. Putting out supplemental food is essential for them to survive such conditions on their southward migration. Think about putting out some nectar using a natural sponge and sugar water (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) in a shallow dish if this occurs in your area. Butterflies will also pull food from rotting fruit. Cutting up your Jack-O-Lantern is a great way to provide food for some butterflies.


Bringing in plants that are not hardy is one of the last things we do to put the garden to bed for the winter months. The pots with the lemon, lime and calamondin plants are large and heavy. It is always challenging to find a good spot for these plants so they can get their required 5 hours of sun a day, preferably 10 hrs. We've learned that they tend to suffer if they don't get the right light requirements so last year we provided supplemental lighting; but, this year my husband had the brilliant idea of putting them on rolling furniture movers. We've placed them in a sunny window in the garage and we can now move the plants outdoors on those sunny, warmer winter days.

use furniture movers to bring in tropical plants for winter

What lessons have you taken away from your garden this Fall? Think about joining in this seasonal meme. All the details are available at Plant Postings (Lessons Learned) and Gardens Eye View (Seasonal Celebrations). Please come back for my next post where I will highlight some of the ways we enjoy celebrating the winter season.

21 comments:

  1. I love that spider! Don't always see Flickers...fun birds.

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    1. The spider was a delightful surprise. Its color is so vibrant. I was so excited to see the Flicker. It seems confirmation that the habitat is working in our garden.

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  2. Great idea about the nectar for late butterflies--I'll have to remember that next fall! I've noticed the same thing about the birds. Although this year I gave the feeders a rest from the middle of the summer through most of the fall. The birds were still plentiful and they had lots of food from the seeds and fruits. I just refilled the feeders the other day--just in time for today's 4" snowfall. The birds were going crazy at the feeders today. :) Oh, and Karin--I'm so excited you mentioned your citrus trees. We just got a Meyer Lemon plant this fall! It's sitting in the sunroom, which gets very cold at night, but not below about 35F. During the summer, we'll keep it outside. I'm so excited about it, but I might need your advice down the road. Thanks for joining in the memes!

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    1. The activity at the feeders in winter is definitely a sign of what is to come. The birds get busy right before the weather turns. Beth, I think you will love your lemon. Your sunroom is a perfect spot for it. Last year our lime tree bloomed indoors and we had to hand pollinate the blooms since it was too cold for any pollinators to be out and about. Citrus is a host plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly and I keep waiting for one to lay its eggs on one of our trees.

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  3. That lovely first picture of grasses remind me of my long time intention of taking photos of those grasses i see on the highway while on the bus home to the province. It's been years and it hasn't yet materialized.

    And your creatures are so colorful too, wonderful to photowalk.

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    1. I can relate Andrea. There are some scenes I intend to photograph but life gets in the way and I don't get around to it in time. But, it is good to have goals for next year, right!

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  4. I love the idea of providing so much natural food in the garden that bird feeders go untouched. It really means that the garden is a sustainable source of food and does not require something additional like birdseed. I have lots for birds and wildlife earlier in the fall, but less so now. So all day long the birds come and go to my feeders. I like your approach better.

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    1. Now that most of the seeds have been foraged, I am seeing more birds at our feeders in December. We have been making homemade suet and the birds love that! I agree that if they can find food in the garden that is the better option but sometimes we have to supplement.

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  5. Hey your husband had a pretty good idea for moving the plants around. I just don't have any place to overwinter here.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. It has worked out well, especially on warmer, rainy days so they can get a good soaking and wash the leaves off. I hope there will also be fewer issues with spider mites too.

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  6. The two main lessons I learned this year are:#1 black raspberries cannont grow in my garden because they need 2 inches of rain a week! No can do. Without that much water there is no harvest. #2 Some garden center straw may have been treated with weed killer and so a straw bale vegetable bed will not thrive. Now I plant in hay bales that I get from a neighbor who uses no herbicides in his field. Deeply soaked before planting.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your lessons! You make an excellent point about the garden center straw! How many of us garden organically but unknowingly use treated straw to cover our beds? Good point!

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  7. Every day is a learning experience in the garden and every day I am humbled by how much I don't know. A certificate says I am a Master Gardener, but frankly, I've never felt that I've mastered gardening, and I doubt that I ever will.

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    1. I agree Dorothy! As a fellow MG, I often feel inadequate when I am asked questions on certain topics (like turf...one of my least favorite subjects). Nature teaches me something new each day. What a blessing to have such an excellent teacher and that we are continually learning!

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  8. Great pictures. I like the idea of a sugar water sponge, I'll try that next summer. Will it attract hummingbirds also?

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    1. I don't see why not! I see other pollinators visit the sponges too. I just have to be careful because my dogs think the sugar water is great too!

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  9. I don't put out birdseed unless we have ice and snow, although now I'm a little nervous about being able to get seeds that haven't been exposed to nicotinoids.

    I think I might have learned something that actually stuck this time -- not to start clearing the garden until spring, otherwise I have to weed all winter.

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    1. I hear you! The neonicotinoids issue is even more reason that we should cultivate our gardens so that the birds can get seeds from plants that we know are free of neoniicotinoids. It always amazes me what weeds can grow here during the winter...the leaves definitely help suppress them.

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  10. Great information, Karin! I never thought of cutting up the pumpkin or putting out sugar sponges for butterflies. Pat's comment about straw is a good one, and SweetBay's about seed with nicotinoids, too…things to pay attention to.

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  11. I also put out nectar for insects late in the season. Heck, I have been doing it all summer too. I do it to lure them in a dry season, so it is important earlier too I have found. You always have such a wonderful assortment of critters. I always love the anoles, they must be avoiding the colder weather huh? That spider is so colorful, none of that color here. I did not get the email alert for your post. Sometimes they take many days and I am not sure why.

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  12. Such a valuable lesson Karin...many times I have been forced out of gardening due to illness, injury or weather and take solace in the nature around me...

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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