Fall Clean-Up

Don’t Clean Up Your Garden in the Fall

Ill.: Claire Tourigny

If you feel the need to clean up a flower bed or vegetable garden (and many gardeners insist on doing so, even when they know may know it’s harmful: they just can’t seem to help themselves!), it’s certainly not something you want to do in the fall. The more a garden is littered with plant residues over the winter, the better the condition it will be in the spring. And there are many reasons for that, including:

• dead leaves and stems protect permanent plants (perennials, bulbs, shrubs, etc.) against the cold;

• garden waste left in place (dead annuals, leaves, etc.) protects your precious garden soil from erosion;

• yanking out dead vegetables and annuals disturbs the soil’s natural balance and is harmful not only to beneficial soil microorganisms, but even to larger ones, like earthworms, 

• the very best nutrient source for any plant is its own decomposing leaves;

• beneficial insects overwinter in “plant waste” and, if you leave it in place, the “enemies of your enemies” will be there the following season to help deal with plant pests;

• the seed capsules of the plants you didn’t cut back will attract birds and feed wildlife;

• and the list goes on and on.

Cleaning up a garden in the fall is simply an unnatural practice!

Even knowing that, though, I know many gardeners will hesitate. “Imagine all those soggy leaves we’ll have to pick up in the spring if we don’t do it in the autumn!” is a common thought.

But that’s the beauty of the whole thing! When spring comes, most “waste” magically disappears. The leaves largely decompose over the winter and the first warm days of spring complete the process. And you can leave what little is left on the ground as a mulch. There is, in fact, very little to pick up in the spring, just a few dead stems still standing, not even a fifth the of stuff you would have bagged in the fall.

In a nutshell, the less you clean up in the fall, the more beautiful and healthy your garden will be. Who knew?

Just trust Mother Nature: she always knows what to do!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “Don’t Clean Up Your Garden in the Fall

  1. It goes both ways. Many of the natives never want to be cleaned under. They rely on the litter, and its mulching qualities. However, for roses and many of the deciduous fruit trees, debris must be removed because diseases overwinter in it. On the farm, it is very important to rake camellia debris because camellia petal blight overwinters in it.

  2. I don’t tidy my garden at any time of year if I can help it. Everything adds up to a better garden

  3. Pingback: Conservation Group Encourages People to Leave Their Leaves on the Ground – Laidback Gardener

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