Ground Preparation for Fall Plantings

By Nikki Hindle, Sales Manager, Ernst Conservation Seeds, and Feed a Bee Steering Committee Member

As gardeners and horticulturists across the U.S. enter fall planting season, many of them, including those of us here at Ernst Conservation Seeds, are taking time to prepare the sites where they will establish their spring blooms. Generally, a garden that’s been effectively prepared for fall planting will be much better equipped to support pollinator habitat and nutrition, especially for those wishing to plant native species.

Wild Native PlantsOne of the most important, and frequently challenging, pieces of site preparation involves identifying invasive species, which will often compete for space and resources with native plants. By determining which plants on a preferred site are invasive, gardeners can then begin to prepare the plot for native seeds.

However, just identifying invasive species isn’t enough. Those who wish to plant native seeds in the fall must then begin the process of eradication, which frequently requires repetition and patience. The process implemented is often reliant on the size of the planting site, which determines whether herbicides will be needed to help manage the seemingly never-ending battle against aggressive vegetation.

Preparing Fall VegetationLarger sites are almost impossible to manage without the use of herbicides. With smaller sites, however, those prepping the ground can use more labor-intensive methods, such as pulling weeds or controlled burning. As perennial weeds are especially difficult to manage, simply pulling the weeds rarely removes their underground networks entirely, and new growth will typically take place from what’s left in the ground. In fact, we have found that it’s best to dig these weeds up completely and send those that do not yet have flowers or seeds to our compost pile. Other methods include using plastic or other thick material to either smother the invasive plants or use the sun’s radiant energy to heat the soil and kill them in a process called soil solarization.

This process of preparing the ground for a native planting often takes experienced gardeners a full growing season, and those that use herbicide will need to wait until the residues have broken down before planting. It’s then time to choose the native plants that are best for the region and the soil type. Those looking to make truly meaningful additions to their pollinator habitat can get the soil tested in case some adjustments need to be made to correct its pH and fertility.

Wild Fall FlowersWhile these methods and recommendations are not an exhaustive list, they are just a few that have worked quite well for Ernst Conservation Seeds and our customers. If you’re looking to start a fall planting, and especially if you’d like to prepare the site for native plant species, be sure to speak with your local seed vendors and nurseries to determine the most thorough and effective site preparation techniques before you begin putting seeds in the ground. After all, fall is just around the corner!