Since for most of us across North America this is a long weekend, I thought it might be a good time to talk about fall garden chores (of course that doesn’t mean that all of us are getting fall–some have already had an early taste of winter and some are still hanging on to summer.) But a strange list that was “tweeted” by the Farmers Almanac earlier this week got me thinking about the concept of fall chores and even the different philosophies of fall clean-ups.
I believe I did a post about this last year so I’m not going to get into it in detail again but I’ve always been a “more is less” sort of fall clean-up person. I follow the Native American principles in gardening where I can about respecting the Earth–although this year with all the molds and mildews in the garden I am going to have to do a lot of cutting back and carting off because I won’t want that stuff overwintering in the garden.
Normally I leave almost everything perennial to winter in place. I believe it better protects the crowns of the perennials, it might leave some interesting seeds for winter birds, and it definitely leaves some winter interest.
With annuals, rather than “pulling them out” as is suggested in the article, I cut them off at the surface and leave the roots to decay in the soil to enrich it. It’s sort of the same principle as “no-till” gardening. The less I disturb the soil, the better off the soil food web will be. I’m not pulling out all those beneficial microbes that I’ve worked hard to build up.
The article also suggests mulching with peat. Now to my mind, that’s another no-no and it was a non-sustainable practice in 2009 when the article was written. But we all have different ideas about sustainability of course. The better practice would be to mulch with leaves or pine straw–and since I have a border of white pines I never lack for pine straw.
She also suggests fall pruning. Lots of folks in my area do this but I am not one of them. With the wild swings of temperatures we have in the fall–and even into January in some years–I’m not one to prune roses, trees or shrubs. Pruning is likely to stimulate new growth if we get a warm enough spell and of course any new growth will just be killed of by the eventual winter. Why set yourself up for that heartbreak? Prune in the spring when you can also prune off any winterkill.
Finally the oddest thing she says is that the heat in the house is going to spark new growth on the house plants so you should begin to feed them. That is the surest prescription for insects and disease that I’ve ever heard. This is why greenhouses are always battling bugs and fungi–because they are overheated. Houseplants normally go into a dormant state in the winter because of the lack of light and unless you are supplementing that light with grow lights I would not feed them.
Another place where conventional gardening wisdom has changed: newly planted trees do not need to be staked–in fact they should not be.
So it’s interesting that in the two years since that checklist was drafted, much of the “wisdom” is outdated. I wonder how much will have changed two years from now?
I agree with the “more is less” approach to fall gardening. You are also right about pruning in the fall my grandfather used to prune in the fall months but because the weather would get warm and of course it would start to grow. It made more work for him in the spring months. I also agree with leaving annuals in the ground, it does indeed make the soil rich and it makes for wonderful plants the next year.
A lot of the gardening wisdom that folks grew up with is changing–but of course trying to convince folks to change the way they do things is not always easy. But gardening is all about learning from experience so perhaps after a time experience will teach newer gardeners (those that aren’t receptive to listening) to try it a different way.
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