Though most of us get the itch to garden in the spring, fall is the best time to plant wildflowers, trees, and shrubs for wildlife. That's because fall plantings have time to recover from transplant shock before new growth begins.
After an entire winter in the ground, a transplant's roots have had time to acclimate to the new environment. Transplants grow vigorously in the spring. Fall planting gives vegetation a biological head start.
There are three ready sources of wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and vines. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The cheapest source of plants is the woods. Here are some guidelines to follow. Always ask permission before you uproot plants on anyone else's property. Be sure you can identify the plants to collect; you don't want poison ivy climbing the porch next spring. And when you find the plants you want, take as much root and soil as possible when removing the plant.
Throughout the years, I've transplanted a number of trees and shrubs from the woods below my house to the yard. That's where I got the flowering dogwood that accents the southeast corner of the house. And a redbud I transplanted more than 20 years ago is now the focal point of the backyard.
I transplanted the lilacs that serve as an effective dust screen by our dining room windows from my mother's backyard in southeastern Pennsylvania. It's always a pleasure to walk by those aromatic blooms each spring. When I smell lilacs, I think of my mom.
I also took a few eastern red cedars from mom's place many years ago. These are evergreens that invade abandoned old fields. They produce small, hard berries that help bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds and cedar waxwings make it through the winter. Unfortunately, they are all gone now; over the years we used them as Christmas trees.
Mail-order nurseries offer home delivery, and most guarantee their plants will grow. But be sure to save the shipping label. It's required for refunds or replacement.
The problem with mail-order plants is that they are usually small, and it takes several years to reach an attractive or fruit-producing size. So if you're looking for immediate results, mail-order may not be the best way to shop.