Fall Clean Up – To Do or Not to Do?
By Shirley Martin
Once summer has bid adieu, many gardeners consider a thorough fall clean-up an essential and enjoyed task. I once was one of those gardeners. I enjoyed the process, the clipping and cleaning and the tidy bed. Recently, though, I’ve come around to a different school of thought. Why not leave it in place?
You may feel that leaving those perennials intact is messy and could harbour insects. Well, you’re right! It can look messy and it can be a wintering site for insects too. But think on this: beneficial insects need a place to overwinter. The hollow stems of some perennials can be overwintering sites for small bees. Ladybugs overwinter in leaf litter and garden debris. The caterpillars of some native butterflies overwinter in cocoons on stems of many plants.
Beyond the benefit to insects, the seeds and fruits of plants feed birds through the winter. Many sparrows and chickadees will stay around through the winter if there’s a food supply readily available to them.
Leaving stems intact through the winter allows them to hold snow in place which acts as an insulator against the cold.
Aethestics. In the autumn the barren stands of perennials look rather sad but imagine winter with hoar frost and snow fall gently cloaking the plants, miniature ice crystals shimmering like tiny jewels on branches and dried flower heads.
For all these reasons I ask you, must the garden be perfectly clean and tidy before winter? Can you tolerate the untidiness knowing that you are helping provide a habitat and food for beneficial insects and birds? With dwindling populations of both, doing less in the garden now may mean less to trouble shoot in the next growing season. It’s a circle of which you become an integral part when you share your garden through the winter. When April comes you’ll be wanting to do something out in your garden and now you’ll be able to.