Fall is for planting. When choosing what to plant, why not factor in the ecosystem while you are at it? Preserving biodiversity may sound like a job for scientists, but in fact the implementation is up to all of us. It is the decisions we make on a daily basis that determine how well our local ecosystem will weather the numerous stressors that come with climate change. We get to see this in action as we choose which plants to install on our properties.
Why should we care about biodiversity, a term that seems so remote to our own lives? Perhaps a better word would be “bio-resilience” or even “bio-survival,” to highlight the importance of genetic diversity in a changing world. In our yards, for example, planting a whole range of species means that whether they are hit by drought, deluge, or the next plague, at least some of them will make it. Better still is to use plants that themselves have genetic diversity, as opposed to ones that are produced by cloning, which is the case for most cultivars.
None of this has much meaning to the planet unless those plants are also native to the area and thus support the myriad critters that depend on them for food. Losing an entire hedge to boxwood blight or a row of crape myrtles to crape myrtle bark scale may be sad for us but makes no difference to the ecosystem. Replacing them with a mixed hedge of native trees and shrubs would provide insurance against stressors while supporting our birds and butterflies. Those critters very much need our support, because they are under threat from the non-native plants that have escaped from our gardens into the natural areas and are turning our parks into monocultures of tree-killing invasives. Finding appropriate substitutes for invasive plants is not a problem - the Native Plants for Northern Virginia guide lists 263 garden-worthy species
Professional landscapers all know that autumn is a great time to plant, even if home gardeners make the mistake of waiting until April to flock to the garden centers. Planting can even continue until the ground is frozen. Many plants including trees and shrubs continue to grow their roots after their leaves fall off, and even those that go dormant have a major head start in the spring before they have to face summer heat and drought. The wise gardeners who take advantage of the fall discounts are rewarded by lighter watering chores and healthier plants. In Northern Virginia, you can find native plants either by looking for the red stickers in participating conventional garden centers or by shopping at the native plant nurseries or at the local fall native plant sales.