Fall Care of Perennials

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There’s been some aggressive weeding of late. I found the tell-tale sign the other evening: come the end of the day, I went about my dutiful effort of hair brushing only to have the exercise yield a brush full of twigs and accompanying detritus. 

Mind you, projects for the week have focused on “perennial triage.” That is to say, freeing trees and shrubs from encroaching weeds, invading vines and the ever-dominant wild raspberry. Thorns, thickets, prickers and spines require a careful approach, while bedstraw, vetch, grasses, wild strawberry and rogue ferns necessitate an all-or-nothing tenacity. Somehow the dirt dirties more than just my hands. 

The goal is multifarious. These perennial plantings are easily pushed down the priority list throughout the growing season, so taking the time to clear around them now, as the season winds to a close, is essential if they are to be given a stronger start come springtime. After weeding around each tree, a mulch or sheet mulch is applied for fertility and weed suppression.   

Our sheet mulching method here at D Acres incorporates two primary materials. First is cardboard collected from area establishments, a means of up-cycling biodegradable material otherwise destined for a landfill. Second is a woody byproduct. Often woodchips are used, a resource we have readily available from our logging efforts. At the moment, I am making use of sawdust donated by a neighbor. Piled in a less than ideal spot, my goal has been to work through the material as quickly as possible. Another week of sheet mulching should easily accomplish the task. Of these two materials, cardboard is utilized for weed suppression, while the placement of organic matter serves to hold the cardboard in place while simultaneously providing a rich nutrient package that will slowly be released and returned to the soil. 

We have found this to be a highly effective process. Effectiveness, of course, is predicated on knowing the location of the pertinent plantings to be cared for. It seems that each year I discover another tree that has previously eluded my observation. This year it was finding a pecan in our ox hovel hedgerow, a lilac bush in our upper field, a fourth roadside beach plum buried beneath goldenrod and sensitive ferns, a fourth sea buckthorn acting as a trellis for somehow-still-lush bedstraw, and a chestnut with the simple tag of “Colossal.”

“Colossal” could also describe the remarkable diversity and strength of our edible landscape. While the work of weeding and mulching will provide these perennial plantings with a power start next season, this work is also in preparation for a more distant future. These trees are tended to now with the hope of production for future decades and future generations. Perennials represent remarkable caloric potential, but time, patience and persistence are required if that hope is to become a reality. This week has been about weeding for the future, for all of our futures.