Don’t clean up your garden this Fall

In the past, the idea of ‘putting the garden to bed’ for winter meant cutting everything down, pulling out all the annuals, raking every leaf and disposing of them off-site, spreading a load of compost on the beds and labouring to work it into the earth. Too much work!

Here’s an environmentally friendly alternative: wait until April and leave almost everything standing. Here are reasons to do so.

  1. Insects need a place to overwinter. Solitary pollinators can hide inside a hollow stem or under a piece of bark. Eggs and larvae may spend winter in the earth. Butterfly chrysalises can be tucked inside a leaf or seed pod. Lady bugs overwinter in groups under rocks, in leaf litter or at the base of plants. Predatory insects such as lacewings, assassin bugs and damsel bugs will emerge in spring to munch pests, if they have not been disturbed.
  2. Plant seeds provide winter food for birds.
  3. If your garden is left intact, there will be more insects to feed the returning birds in spring.
  4. Healthy soil has a rich ecosystem of micro-organisms in complex balance. These are vital for good soil and hence good plant health. Tilling, digging and pulling up plants destroy this system and break up the air and water passages formed by worms and other soil life.
  5. Plants which are left standing will gather snow. This protects roots of perennials and adds moisture to the earth.
  6. Your garden can offer a home to toads, and spiders both of whom are ‘good guys’ in the fight against pests.

You will need to remove and cut back diseased plants, cut off the mushy leaves of soft plants like hosta and rake leaves from your lawn. Put them in the beds or compost them. Spread compost on top of your beds, around standing plants and shrubs. The weather, worms and microbes will do the hard work of moving it down into the earth.

Enjoy your garden!

Some additional resources:

Rama, Laureen “Eco-yards. Simple Steps to Earth-Friendly Landscapes. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC. 2011

Submitted by Leslye Glover