purple and orange mums with title "plants as time keepers for fall equinox"

The plants show me that the fall equinox is coming soon.


The tree leaves turning colors isn’t the indication fall is coming. Here in Wisconsin that hasn’t started yet. The clue comes from the successive blossoming of colors of the reproductive structures ~ the flowers. 


Where I live the purple beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) , goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), and New England asters (Aster novae-angliae)  are the fall equinox alarms. In that order.  Sometimes I plead with the asters as I see the buds forming, “Not yet please. Can you hold out a bit before blooming? I need a bit more summer.”


purple flower of an aster with a bee in the middle
Aster novae-angliae


Imagine if you lived on the land, without timekeeping clocks, and suddenly you were displaced to a new area. How would you track the times for harvesting, upcoming winters, and other seasonal dependent changes? 

The calendar can tell me it’s fall equinox but it’s the FEEL of fall that no calendar can predict.The FEEL of fall iis the slowing down, the spiral back within, the reflection of how the growing season went. The growing of soil, plants, experiences, new adventures – the outward expression of life during the season of the sun. 


The signs of Fall are mild right now. Besides the signals from plants, the days are cooler and less humid, the nights are blanket and sweater weather. The trees are full green without signs of shedding. I’m starting to feel the draw to retreat to the couch with a cozy blanket, warm cup of brew, and a story transforming me to other lands. 


This weekend I felt the urgency to prepare for human hibernation, start to grow. It wasn’t too loud, just a little nudge. I have 38 potted perennial plants that moved with me from the previous home. They need to go subterranean before the snow flies and the ground freezes. 


The chances of the roots freezing through and dieing is about 90% according to my experience. The other 10% are the herbs and perennials I know can overwinter in pots.  White sage (Artemisia ludovicianaand beebalm are my best survivors. Even with my experience of these survivors I don’t want to risk losing my long-time plant friends. I’ve had some from one to three decades.

many potted plants in front of the house
Picture: Many potted plants waiting patiently for a place in the ground. 

They are like friends, they’ve survived diseases, insect problems, hot dry summer, freezing cold winters. I know how they respond and I want to maintain the genetic line. They’ve been through the ebbs and flows of life with me and our family. It’s like a family pet that’s been there from the beginning, from bringing home new babies, home moves, to family deaths. Those pets are in all the memories. They know how you respond to them and them to you. It’s predictable, secure, and comforting to have this routine and relationship. It happens with plants too.  My memories have gardens in them. My pictures have plants in them. My life is a collection of plants, in pots, moving with me. 


So, there I was, looking at the 38 pots of plants, feeling the subtle shift of the seasons and the slight urgency to “get them in the ground”. 


I hesitated for several reasons. I didn’t have a garden plan for this new-to-me yard. Tracking the sun patterns was a challenge with many cloudy days in the first few days in the home.  I didn’t feel that I took enough time to connect with the land and ask it’s ecosystem what it wanted. My inquiries felt brief which took place during my breaks from unpacking, but not in a way that I felt sure I had listened enough. I wasn’t even sure how the sun availability changed throughout the day in my own yard. With seven fully grown trees full sun is hard to come by.


The urgency to find places for each plant is strong “I can’t wait. I have to get them in the ground.” Besides, next spring and summer I can move them again, if needed. Though, moving plants multiple times in a short span can cause transplant shock which causes  blooming delays, none at all, or death. 


Not only do the plants need to be insulated from drastic freezing and thawing; the roots need time to start establishing in their new home – unpack their roots. Their metabolic processes slow to a near standstill during the dormant season. The water and nutrients the plants need to have in order to burst out in Spring has to be stored through the Winter. That water storage gets stocked from precipitation and soil moisture in Fall. 


So there I was wrestling with landscape fabric and roots from a previously removed tree, but I finally added 8 new herbs to the yard area. 

purple flower of beebalmMonarda fistulosa 

As I dug, pulled, planted, I was listening to the land for guidance about what it wanted to be. It revealed this  . . . . 

“The plan doesn’t need to be complex.

You see the shaddy and sunny areas. 

There are already defined garden beds. 

Plant in those places. 

Don’t over analyze.”

How simple. I was waiting for a BIGGER revelation such as “We want a labyrinth and eighty-five woodland plant species!” When will I learn that intuition is gentle and subtle? That nature is already grand and amazing without a big and difficult garden plan in place. 


For now, the temperatures remain pleasant, no frost forecast in sight, so I’m not sure what the urgency is all about. Though, I’m going to trust this gut instinct to “get-them-in-the-ground”. 


I’m going to enjoy the transition through fall and keep my bare feet on the ground as long as I can before boots and snow pants weather arrives.I 

How do you celebrate the Fall Equinox? Comment option below. 

If you love the FEEL of fall equinox consider creating a personalized celebration using the Fall Equinox Planning Pages. I’ll send you the  first three pages of the Planning Pages through email when you register here: https://bit.ly/3mWHniu 

2d image of the front cover of the fall equinox pages


About the author

Erin LaFaive is an herbalist and Plant Priestess with Full Circle Herbals.

“I came about the name Full Circle Herbals because I like all aspects of herbs from growing, harvesting, using, preserving, teaching, and creating.

Some people like growing herbs, others would rather purchase herbs to make remedies and crafts. Some people like teaching about herbs more than growing them. I like all of it! From seed to soil, to body, mind, and spirit.

That’s what you’ll find  here ~ teaching, making, growing, seed saving . . . the Full Circle of herbs.

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