Time to put the Gardens to bed—fall plant tips from the pros

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Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens
We love learning alongside the top-notch volunteers and devoted members at the Gardens. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Temps are cooling, leaves are changing… autumn has officially arrived in Birmingham. We caught up with the plant experts from the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens to get gardening advice as we head into winter. Here’s what you need to know!

We Learned from the Best

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The Gardens are a joy for all ages. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

If you’re a plant person in the state of Alabama, chances are you’ve visited Birmingham Botanical Gardens a time or two. This local treasure draws visitors from all over the world, and it truly is one of the most gorgeous places in our city.

With over 67 acres filled with native and global plants alike, the people who keep the Gardens going know a thing or two about how to care for your greenest friends.

John Manion is a longtime Friend of Birmingham Botanical Gardens and currently serves as the Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator. He’s an expert in native plants and garden care in general, and we caught up with him to learn his best tips for putting your gardens to bed this autumn.

Prepping Outdoor Beds

Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Put down the rake! Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

John Manion’s biggest piece of advice when it comes to dealing with your outdoor gardens this time of year is to stop cutting everything back as it dies off. It may feel natural to clean out dead leaves and stems, but you’re actually doing more harm than good. Here’s why:

“All that refuse provides a lot of good material for the soil. More importantly than that, there are a lot of creatures that depend on those things we normally cut back…

People want everything to be neat and tidy, but that’s not necessarily what’s best.”

John Manion, Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator with the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

The more you strip away from the surface of the soil, whether it’s by raking leaves or pulling up plants, the less healthy your soil microbes are going to be.

At the same time, you don’t want to leave too thick of a layer behind. John advises covering your garden in a 3- to 4-inch layer of dead leaves, which will provide insulation in colder temps without suffocating what’s underneath.

As far as watering goes, John says it’s generally not necessary in the winter months. If we have a particularly dry winter, check the soil every once in a while and make sure it’s not completely dried out.

How to Handle Houseplants

Botanica Birmingham
The ideal bedside table. Photo via Botanica on Facebook

A whole bunch of people joined the houseplant family in 2020. If you’re a pandemic plant parent, you’re about to experience your first winter with your new babies.

While indoor plants obviously aren’t exposed to as many harsh elements as their outdoor counterparts, the seasons do have an effect on houseplants. Most notably, the active growing season ends.

For some plants, this just means they’re growing at a much slower rate. Some common houseplants, however, will go completely dormant. This doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with them, but it does mean you should adjust your care accordingly.

“In general, the number one problem for people who have houseplants is they overwater them.

Overwatering leads to rot, especially in periods where they’re not putting out active growth.”

John Manion, Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator with the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

While the top layer of soil may dry out quickly, don’t reach for the watering can until your houseplant’s soil is dry a couple of inches deep. Fertilizer is generally not necessary in the winter months.

Additional measures like humidifiers, misters, temperature control, etc. can all benefit your plants as well. Want more houseplant tips from the pros? Check out this highlight of the participating local nurseries, garden centers, and flower shops that offer special discounts to members of the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Give one of them a call or drop by their storefronts to get helpful advice on plant care, gardening and a whole lot more.

Get More Tips

If you’re a plant person of any skill or experience level, you need to check out all the awesome resources the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens have to offer.

Their newly launched YouTube channel has videos spanning topics like garden tours, tips from the experts, activities for kids, local partner spotlights and a whole lot more.

You can also follow the Gardens on social media to keep up with events and advice. Find them here: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Last but not least, you can get access to all kinds of other benefits, including exclusive classes and events and free or discounted admission to botanical gardens across the country, by becoming a Friend of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Now is a great time to join: Enjoy 10% off any membership level with code FRIENDS. Support a Birmingham treasure and grow your knowledge at the same time—it’s a win-win.

Check out what classes are coming up in the Gardens here. Plus—stay tuned to Bham Now for an inside look at the Gardens in autumn coming soon.

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  • A Birmingham transplant who can usually be found hitting a new hiking trail or restaurant opening when she's not writing stories and snapping photos for Bham Now.