The laidback gardener does practically no fall cleanup (he trusts that Mother Nature knows how to take care of his plants)… but in the spring, there a modicum of cleaning to do.
Collect any waste that has found its way into your garden: paper,, plastic bags, frisbees, etc. Also pick up any branches that have fallen off trees during the winter. Yes, do rake up and compost fall leaves that have accumulated on your walkways and driveway, but not those that fell into your flower beds, as they are already decomposing and enriching your soil. Most will disappear on their own over the coming weeks and as to those that are slower to decompose… let’s just call them “mulch”, and you don’t have to pick up mulch! As for any stems of perennials that are still standing, snap them off at the base and lay them on the ground at the foot of the plant that had produced them. After all, as they decompose, they too will enrich the soil.
And there you go: you’ve finished your garden’s spring cleanup and your coffee isn’t even cold yet!
If you are lucky enough to have a wooded area on your property, congratulations: you’ll have even less cleaning up to do than the average gardener. Indeed, while you may want to do a quick cleanup of flower beds that border the woods, in the forest itself, minor irregularities are simply not visible and so you have no cleaning at all to do… except maybe picking up wandering papers and plastic bags. Make this your motto and your gardening life will be much simpler: a forest takes care of itself!