Thursday, November 13, 2014

Simple Suggestion # 219... Let sleeping plants lie

Every fall I see them, neighbours out hacking down their perennials before the snow flies, stuffing the dead leaves and stalks into garbage bags for the city to haul to its composting facilities. Those same neighbours probably look at my messy, un-hacked yard and think, what a lazy gardener she is!

Well, yes and no. Yes, in that I refuse to cut my plants down to the ground in the autumn -- but that's because I know that perennials fare better through the year's cold seasons if they are protected by last summer's decomposing growth. No, in that it all gets cleaned up in the spring when it's not so necessary for protecting my bushes and bulbs through the winter.

Raking autumn leaves out of my flower beds is also something I won't do because they are free, natural mulch. The layer of detritus that so many people pack up and toss makes a good winter home for numerous beneficial insects like ground beetles and the cheery little lady bugs that get rid of nasty, plant eating aphids and others of their ilk. Until heavy snow cover arrives, birds are always poking around in the mulch looking for a bite, and our local jack rabbits often nibble their way through. The chickadees, grosbeaks and nuthatches pick grains from the seed heads that they like, and play hide and seek in the stuff that's still standing. Of course, if you don't like nature paying you visits, it's best to get rid of all those plant leftovers. (Don't forget the benefits of winter composting, though!)

I know, leaving those plants sticking up all over the place makes a yard look messy -- but once there's a snowfall, the bumps and branches are a lot more interesting to look at than flat snowdrifts. And who really cares what the neighbours think? Once spring rolls around, cabin fever and the excess energy all gardeners get from garden hibernation will make it easy to get out and clear space for new growth. Plus, fall's already full compost bins will have shrunk through the winter to make space for a few more stalks and leaves that can later find their composted way into the summer garden, or be made into compost tea-fertilizer. The yard will look happier than ever come summer, and if the neighbours happen to wonder why, well, that's a perfect chance to educate them!

So if you didn't get your yard cleaned up before the first snowfall, fret not. You're only gardening like God does (going back to #3 of these Simple Suggestions), and actually doing your garden and its creatures a favour!

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