The north winds are whistling, and the monarchs have left the butterfly garden. Even though you’ll miss these magnificent creatures, take heart in knowing there’s a chance you could see their children or grandchildren fluttering around your garden next spring.
In the meantime, there’s plenty you can do to prepare for next season’s butterflies. Fall planting plants can yield big returns for next season’s pollinators. If you miss that window of opportunity, you can also fall plant milkweed seeds.
These 5 fall gardening tips can help you end the season on a high note, and start next season right where you left off…
End of Season Checklist
1. Pull Out Annuals
It’s undeniably easier to do this in fall, while you still know exactly where everything is planted, and there are no nagging questions about what you’re really pulling out! You can also avoid doing drudge work in the cold mud next spring.
2. Rake Leaves
Don’t let piled up leaves delay the triumphant return of your light-deprived plants. Rake now to prevent your yard and garden from being covered by a musty (potentially fungus causing) blanket in desperate need of removal next spring.
Some garden bed leaves can be left until early spring as protection for overwintering native insects.
Your raking treasure can also provide protection for some of your most vulnerable plants by applying Tip 3…
3. Mulch Plants
Why go out and buy mulch when you can use the leaves you just raked? I typically wait until the ground is almost frozen before spreading leaves around our plants…but always mulch before the first major snowstorm!
If you’d like a more substantial mulch, try wood chips (we use cedar) or straw. Use pine bark only on plants that prefer an acidic soil ph level.
A few inches of leaf mulch (4-6″) keeps the soil temperature from going through extreme temperature fluctuations in winter and spring. These fluctuations could ultimately kill your precious plants, and steer the butterflies toward a more satisfying garden menu.
You can also mulch container plants with this method we use for mulching potted trees
4. Label Plants
Use garden plant labels and a weather proof garden marker to clearly label where your plants will return, or risk heartache from plant-pulling mistakes next spring.
5. Take Cuttings
You can also do this with other butterfly plants, but most milkweed/nectar options will require additional preparation with rooting hormone and immediate placement in a soil medium.
6. Harvest Seeds
If you’re lucky, your milkweed plants will produce a bounty of seeds you can harvest and plant this fall, this winter, indoors, or even next spring. Options are always a good thing:
7. Cut Back Tropical Milkweed
In warm regions including south Texas, Florida, and Southern California, tropical milkweed is a continuous growing plant. This means they will harbor excessive amounts of OE spores and monarch-killing pathogens over time.
Cut back tropical (and other continuous growing milkweed species) to the ground in fall and winter to allow fresh, healthy growth to occur. I would also treat the soil with hydrogen peroxide afterward as suggested in this milkweed diseases post.
This can be done after the bulk of the monarch migration passes through or during a time of decreased monarch activity in your garden. If you want emergency milkweed availability, you can always stagger your cuttings and leave a few plants to cut back later…
Save for Spring?
Leave tender and late blooming perennials alone until spring. This further protects the plants from exposure to cold, and also allows other butterflies, moths, and wildlife a warm place to overwinter before coming back to life next spring.
Butterflies, including black swallowtails, overwinter in chrysalis form. These chrysalides were intelligently designed to blend in with nature, so you never know where they might be, until they reveal themselves as shiny new butterflies next spring.
Soil cultivation is not recommended for fall because earth worms will be ripe for the picking after you turn over the soil without adding new plants. Left alone, these beneficial worms loosen the soil, which helps your plant roots grow and thrive.
Once you get these easy fall gardening tips out of the way, you can fully turn your attention to thoughts of spring, and the hopeful return of magnificent monarch butterflies.