Schlosser fall gardening 1.jpg

A goldfinch perches on a Coneflower is a sign of autumn in North Carolina.

Brilliant autumn days with a few cool breezes are here and my thoughts turn to tasks ahead — removing summer annuals, trimming unruly growth from goldenrods, catching a few beautyberry seeds before birds find them, and planting things I’ve purchased and left in pots.

Among the plants still waiting for a permanent spot is a Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus. It is a lovely small deciduous tree (maximum of 20 feet tall) that tolerates clay soil and will even grow near Black Walnut trees. It does like some moisture, so until it is established a little extra water will be of benefit. Once established, it usually does fine in our area.

Fragrant white flowers with ribbon-like petals adorn the tree in spring and golden yellow leaves look great against our celadon blue autumn skies. Better still, the dark blue fruits of the female flowers are a food source for birds.

Fall is tree planting time and doing so is a good way to participate in efforts to mitigate climate change. Working alone we cannot do a lot but joining forces with organizations like The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees program allows us to reduce the carbon dioxide in the air. The United Nations upped the ante and is pushing for planting a trillion trees across the planet. That would amount to approximately 126 trees for every person. That’s a little beyond my ability, but there are ways to contribute.

A start is to plant a few trees. If that doesn’t work for you, send a donation to a group that works toward reforestation or restoration efforts. If you earmark your donation for trees, that counts toward your 126.

Back to more pleasant things, I was listening to NPR recently and was amazed to learn dragonflies sometimes swarm in the millions — enough to be detected on radar — as they begin to migrate. They are interesting creatures with some rather fearsome habits. After a little research, I found that the average lifespan for a dragonfly is about six months. Some can live for several years as aquatic larvae or nymphs, molting as many as 15 times before becoming adults. Once at the adult stage, their lives are short, often because they are the prey of birds.

They have their own preferences, one of which is mosquitoes, so I was delighted to find several flitting around my yard this summer. I believe they were Common Whitetails, which looked blue to me. The color is from a waxy coating on males that looks white, or with a slant of the sun, a brilliant blue. They have very large eyes and their appetites match. With serrated teeth and strong legs for holding onto their meals, they also eat crickets and other large insects.

Unfortunately, the loss of habitat over the years has led to a significant decline in the numbers of dragonflies and lots of other plants, birds, animals and insects. Since the 1600s, the United States has lost more than half of the estimated 221 million acres of wetlands that were once here.

Managing remaining wetlands is important and challenging, as our rivers, streams and ponds are also suffering from excess nitrogen and phosphorous. It is hard not to wonder what will become of all the creatures.

We can help here, too. By creating a small space in our gardens or yards that is full of plants that offer food and shelter to birds and insects, we are doing more than saving things like dragonflies. Many insects will come, among them bees and others on whom we depend for pollinating our food crops, including our fabulous summer tomatoes and delicious autumn apples, pumpkins and persimmons.

In the meantime, enjoy autumn in North Carolina. The milkweed pods are fattening with silky sails on the seeds of flowers to come. Goldfinches are gathering at Coneflowers and Thistles. Rosy red apples are mellowing on the trees, just waiting to serve their time in pies and in frosty glasses of cider.

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Katherine Schlosser welcomes comments and questions, and can be reached at or 336-855-8022.

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