Opportunities on Vacant Land in Winter

As the leaves fall and the wind blows, many of us choose to retreat into the warmth of our homes. However, as winter approaches, there are still many opportunities for you to get outside and show some care for vacant land within your community.

In early to mid-fall, it’s a wonderful time to plant perennials on a vacant parcel. This can be as involved as planting balled-and-burlapped trees, or as simple as scattering a few of your favorite perennial plant seeds that might require cold stratification. Flower bulbs (crocus, daffodil, and tulip) also tend to be very popular to plant during this season. And while you’re at it, pick up a few pieces of litter that less than considerate community members might have left during the summer. After the vegetation goes dormant for the season, many pieces of rubbish that would otherwise be obscured rise to the surface.

Oftentimes, autumn and winter are the easiest times to identify and extirpate invasive species such as Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) or tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). These same species that vanish into the verdant landscapes of summer stand out starkly once the cool winds of fall strip away foliage.

Another means by which we can take advantage of leaf drop is by pruning deciduous shrubs and trees such as rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) or smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria). During leafless times, the forms of these plants are much easier to distinguish and edit. Moreover, far less debris is generated through this maintenance than would be created was this task performed in spring or summer, thereby requiring less time and energy from the groundskeeper.

The cooler months are also a favorable time to engage with vacant spaces in other ways: for instance, some people find enjoyment observing or tracking the animals living or stopping through a particular vacant parcel. Keeping a record of the animal visitors in a particular locale can give you a wider sense of how their populations change over time, resulting in a deeper connection to the environment around you.

The dormant season is also a great time to do some planning for vacant parcels in your area. While the vegetation is low, it’s very easy to do site measurements and other design related tasks. Some crafting or building related projects that are compatible with vacant land include bird or insect houses, bird feeders, or community scale composting facilities.

Perhaps on milder days during the winter, you and your neighbors can get together for a cookout on a vacant parcel. Gathering in these spaces during the offseason is a wonderful way to encourage neighbors to consider the value of green space in a manner that they might not have before.

And let’s not forget all the fun we can have when the winter becomes white: snow is more than just a chore. Incorporating a wheelbarrow and some neighbors into the task of sidewalk clearing can result in a fun, creative experience for everyone. After all, we receive relatively few chances in this climate to enjoy snow sculptures. This winter, if you have a moment, try to look at vacant parcels in your neighborhood as possibilities rather than problems.

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