Putting the Garden To Bed For Winter

On Monday I mentioned that I do the majority of my garden clean-up in the spring because it was better for the garden. This may have struck some of you as a controversial statement. By now, I hope it hasn’t.

The idea of “lazy gardening,” “less is more” and other sorts of hands off garden maintenance has become somewhat of a norm, not just because it’s easier on the garden, but because it’s better for the garden. And by better for the garden, I mean it’s the more sustainable garden practice.

Many towns are even beginning to mandate a sustainable approach to fall leaf care because the practice of collecting leaves–whether they are bagged or raked or worse yet blown to the curb–is very economically costly. Homeowners who initially resisted and feared the collapse of civilization once their towns stopped collecting leaves have found other ways to manage, even in the leafy suburbs.

While our town and neighboring town haven’t stopped collecting the leaves yet, I have put some of the leaves in my yard to various creative uses over the years. In the days when I grew hybrid tea roses, I would mulch the roses with leaves instead of something else. I would use whole elaves instead of chopped leaves because they were a better insulator.

I still let all the leaves over winter remain in my perennial and shrub borders. It provides a nice, nature supplied insulation. And while I have lots of voles on the property, I do not lose plants to the voles over winter this way. I don’t have to worry about timing my mulch application to when the ground freezes–nature seems to take care of that.

So what I do worry about before the leaves come down are things that I call the “must dos.” I remove diseased foliage. I try to remove perennial weeds. I remove weeds with lots of seed heads that may scatter around and sow themselves and thus spring up before winter.

After that, there are the “can dos.” These are the things that it is nice to do before winter sets in, but it’s no catastrophe if I fail to do them. In this category are things like cleaning out pots and straightening out my tools and my potting shed. Nice if I want to do it; if I don’t nothing is compromised.

And then there are the just plain old garden chores. This involves things like rolling up and draining garden hoses, bringing in or covering any statuary that isn’t weather safe, things of that nature. While one could argue that these are “must dos,” I don’t really put them in the garden category at all because they’re sort of garden house keeping. Whether one has a huge garden or a small one, this is the sort of maintenance that has to be done. This is like the “oil changes” of the garden–the bare minimum that must be done to keep things working.

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