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From The Ground Up: It's fall and time to plant

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By Becki Lynch, Iowa State University Extension

As the season winds down, we are entering the best time of the year for planting native plants, trees and shrubs. Why? First, from the buyer’s point of view, the prices are generally much better. Sales abound in local nurseries on all types of plants, trees, and shrubs as they clear their inventories for the winter — so get out there and check them out. Second, from the pollinator plant view the temperatures are cool, yet not freezing, so plants can develop their root systems without using energy to bloom, and watering is more effective for a longer period of time. By following these simple guidelines, your pollinator plants (mostly natives) will become dormant after about three months of development and will emerge healthy and strong next spring.

-- Make holes for plants at least 2 inches wider than the root ball and deep enough to plant at same level as in pot.

-- If soil is loamy, do not fertilize.

-- If sandy or clay soil, place 1 to 2 cups of compost in the bottom of the hole, and fill in around plant. Do same for bulbs.

-- Water consistently until a hard freeze (below 26 degrees).

-- With 1 inch to 2 inches of frost in ground, cover plants with shredded wood mulch or leaves (2 to 3 inches) for winter insulation and protection from heaving (when weather warms and freezes often, plants can be forced out of the ground).

-- For perennials and grasses, do not cut back the foliage until spring — small pollinators may be overwintering in and under the stems.

-- For new trees and shrubs, stake for one full growing season to help them root in firmly and straight. Be sure to remove ropes stakes, and ties after one year so you do not damage the bark of the trees.

And which plants do I recommend to get started this fall? Here are a few that I have not mentioned before, and are specific host plants to increase the diversity of butterflies and bees on your property. First, some easy care nectar favorites for bees are early spring bulbs such as Glory in the Snow, Snowdrops, Crocuses and Hyacinths. And here are some plants that have often been considered weeds, but can be cultivated specifically for butterflies. Strong host plants are rose and marsh mallows, the lead plant, clovers, plantains, mustard and carrot family plants, fennel, dill, milkweed, and violets. Trees include elm, hackberry, sycamore, willow and linden. And to name a few of the butterflies that depend on these plants for their caterpillars — monarchs, swallowtails, alfalfa, buckeye, cabbage white, checkered skipper and fritillaries. Please consider adding (or just not weeding) these plants at your place next year.

For gardening questions, call the Linn County Extension Master Gardener Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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