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Fall is for Foraging

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

I’m sure I’m known as the crazy neighbor around the neighborhood because I can always be seen digging in the fields in the ditches for interesting plants. The back of my truck is always filled with dirt, tarps and shovels. Maybe I look like a serial killer, oh my! I guess I’ve watched too much NCIS and Longmire.

If you love plants and gardening you don’t always have to go to the garden center for plants that grow well in your area or get them as a gift from a friend. One of my favorite things to do is forage especially in the fall and the spring. The fall is the best time to transplant perennials from a local landscape as the temperatures are generally cooler and you have ample rainfall. Spring is a good time as well, but the fall allows you to see how immature plants will function in your local environment. If you see a plant on someone’s property or in their field you would like to collect of course contact them first. Don’t ever just go digging on someone’s property without permission. Now, I do consider wild rural ditches fair game and certainly you never want to take plants from any preserved land as they could be endangered.

My young gardening helper lifting sumac

Wild sumac that grows in our neighborhood is one of the most beautiful plant in the fall. It even inspired one of my favorite pieces of art, the stainglass windows in the Dana Thomas house in Springfield Illinois. After years of enjoying these plants coloring a beautiful orange red I asked my neighbor and the property owner if I could dig some up. My garden helper and I went out on a warm fall day and gathered some for my shrub ramble garden.

Tips for transplanting-

Choose a time of year when the plant is not under stress neither too cold or too hot when rainfall is ample and temperatures are moderate. When gathering a plant make sure to gather as much of the root system as possible and also check the top of the soil for any invasive weeds making sure to pull those out by the roots. When you gather your plants make sure to get them in the ground as soon as possible so that the roots don’t have time to dry out. I usually gather my plants and immediately place them in the ground. If you don’t have time to do it immediately place them in pots with some potting soil or garden soil and keep them well watered until you can transplant them. I’ve also had a fair amount of luck with gathering plants from the local environment, potting them and then growing them out in my garage windowsill during the colder season.

Your daily walks are a great time to search the environment for trees and plants you might want in your garden. Maybe you’ll find a volunteer crepe myrtle like I did in a ditch or a volunteer magnolia growing along the roadside or even ferns in a wooded area that you might want to transplant. Remember that local plants and native plants that are already growing well in your environment usually will grow well in your garden. Best of all, forage plants are free!

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