Rethink fall cleanup; Plant in “Guilds” 

We propose rethinking the impulse to do that ‘fall clean up’ thing. Instead of removing old stalks and leaves, focus on regenerative activities like planting, topdressing, and seed collection. Think of fall tending as making your garden comfortable for overwintering insects and birds: stalks with seed heads in place will attract birds, a brush pile will allow birds and small mammals a place of refuge, a layer of fallen leaves allows insects to overwinter in the leaf litter. Leaving dormant plant material does not mean a messy garden if you incorporate ‘Cues to Care,’ which shows intentionality. Maybe you choose not to leave ALL the leaves; instead, leave a layer covering the ground, and you can collect and make leaf mulch with the rest. Leaves that fall on lawn areas can be shredded in place by running the lawn mower over them. If plant stalks break or lean, go ahead and cut them back evenly at the same height. If you have a meadow area, mow the front edge so taller plants are not falling over beyond the meadow. These intentional cultural practices will signal this landscape is being tended.

“The perfect mulch (Leaves!) We lose much when we remove leaf litter because it provides so many free services for us: free mulch, free fertilizer, free weed control, and free soil amendments…Above all, a deep bed of leaf litter acts like a sponge, soaking up enormous quantities of water during downpours.” –Page 131, Bringing Nature Home


A guild is a group of plants planted together that perform multiple ecological functions and support each other in a variety of ways, many are stronger than one. Tallamy also advises us to create an island with several plants instead of planting a single tree alone. If we have done a consultation report for you or if you’ve talked with us at the nursery, you may know that we often recommend planting in ‘layers.’ Consider the overstory or canopy tree layer, understory or smaller tree layer, shrub layer, and groundcover layer. By thinking of the vertical structure, you will maximize the available space while increasing biodiversity and ecological function, as well as providing more habitat for wildlife.

Examples of Guild collections in stock now:

For moist or lowland soil conditions in sun to part shade
Overstory: Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak), Quercus lyrata (overcup oak), Nyssa sylvatica (black gum)
Understory: Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia), Cornus amomum (silky dogwood)
Shrub layer: Ilex verticillata (winterberry holly), Ilex glabra (inkberry holly), Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea), Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry)
Ground layer: Packera aurea (golden ragwort), Chelone glabra (turtle head), a variety of Carex species (sedges)

For average soil conditions in sun to part shade
Overstory: Quercus alba (white oak), Quercus rubra (northern red oak), Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Understory layer: Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam), Cercis canadensis (redbud), Amelanchier laevis (serviceberry), Sassafras albidum (sassafras), Hamamelis virginiana (witchhazel), Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood)
Shrub layer: Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry), Viburnum nudum (possumhaw), Calycanthus floridus (Carolina allspice), Aesculus parviflora (bottle bush buckeye)
Ground layer: Scuttelaria incana (skull cap), Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower), Carex sp (sedges)

For a shady shrub layer:
Rubus odoratus (purple flowering raspberry), Aesculus pavia (red buckeye), Viburnum dentatum (arrowwood), Virburnum trilobum (cranberry bush), Hydrangea arborescens (smooth hydrangea), Fothergilla gardenii (witch alder), Itea virginica (Viginia sweetspire) paired with Aster cordifolia (blue wood aster) or Heuchera americana (coral bells) for the ground layer.

Upcoming Events

We’ll be leading a class at Longwood Gardens on November 1 & 4, Planting with Fall Natives. Details and registration here.

Mark your calendar for our 4th Annual Winter Market: November 25 & 26. We are still accepting applications from vendors. Interested makers and artisans can apply here.

And watch for pop up announcements of Yard Talks at the nursery this fall.