Putting the Garden To Bed

Last week I mentioned “Putting the Garden to Bed.”   As with so many things in gardening, this too has changed considerably, even over the years that I’ve been doing it and speaking about it.

Unfortunately, in many neighborhoods, this information hasn’t filtered down to folks–or to the lawn care companies.  But our neighbors to the west in New York state have taken on a new initiative with respect to leaves called “Love “Em & Leave “Em” or “Leave Leaves Alone” that keeps leaves out of landfills and municipal yards and saves towns tens of thousands in manpower because the leaves are not picked up curbside.  Even better, because the leaves are “mulched in place” on the homeowner’s property, fossil fuel (the $4.00+ gallon gasoline or diesel) is saved by not driving those trucks to get the leaves.  It’s already the law in Scarsdale and Irvington NY and it’s suggested practice in all of Westchester County, NY,  Ohio, and the Bay area of California.

It’s certainly not a carbon neutral program: the homeowner or landscape company still will most likely be using gasoline to mulch the leaves.  But it’s a far better program for the Earth and the individual yard because mulching the leaves on the lawn–or mulching them in the bagging part of the lawnmower and spreading them in the garden beds–will help improve soil fertility without any extra work on the homeowner’s part (other than running the mower, which one would most likely do this time of year anyway).

If one were not running a mower, one would be running a leaf blower (as far too many of my neighbors already are in the quest for perfection).

Other sustainable practices include

  • not cutting back ornamental grasses until springtime (but cutting off the tips, or seedheads so that they do not self-sow, if that has been a problem for you) so that they provide cover and shelter for the birds–and so that you can enjoy their beauty in winter
  • leaving stems of sturdy perennials standing throughout winter to provide structure and interest in the garden (but do not leave any diseased stems to over-winter)
  • leaving stems of perennials with seedheads like echinacea and rudbeckia standing to provide interest and to feed the birds
  • leave stems of wildflowers like woodland asters in place if you want them to self-sow
  • do not worry about winter protection for any hardy (shrub or floribunda) roses in zones 6 or higher.  Hybrid teas and grandifloras will still need winter protection and the base–but mulch with about a foot of new mulch only.  That way, it will be available to you for spring mulching
  • don’t cut back rose canes–it’s not necessary, and with our uneven winters, it may only promote new growth
  • prune in the spring, not in the fall for the same reason.  Prune early spring bloomers right after flowering.

Many of these practices are the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing for years–but with the crazy weather and 70 degree January days, this is the way to get the garden safely through the winter and to another spring to enjoy!

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