In the Yard

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

Fall cleanup: Tidy up or let it be?

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: November 3, 2011 - 6:21 AM

No matter where you fall on the issue of fall garden cleanup, you have to appreciate a recent tweet by Benjamin Vogt. He's a poet, gardener and author of Sleep, Creep, Leap which recounts his adventures in prairie gardening on his Nebraska plot...

"Just prepped my garden for winter by glancing out the office window and sighing. Seriously why do people do fall clean-up? Nature doesn't."

I guess I fall somewhere close to this 140-characters or less, garden-maintenance manifesto. I don't do much. But I do a little.

I would venture that fall cleanup routines are dependent upon gardening styles, weather and peer pressure. The more naturalistic setting can get away with less. While manicured and groomed gardens, like women of the same sort, demand more intense seasonal intervention.

Of course, those of us up north know that just like a striking poncho, good snow cover can hide a multitude of sins.

Raking leaves in the crisp autumn air is as much psychological marker as seasonal chore. In neighborhoods where pride of place is present, it's just what you do. I've been known to rearrange the leaves to cover the beds for what's known as "lazy (wo)man's mulch". However leaves can get matted and deprive the soil of moisture and they create unhealthy conditions when left on the lawn.

It's probably most important to remove leaves and other dead material from plants and trees suffering with any fungal issues. Disposing of that debris will help stop the cycle reinfection from year to year. Keep it out the compost too.

Leaving some debris provides beneficial insects and other animals overwintering sites. However it gives all insects, some undesirable, a place too. There's never an easy answer.

Pulling up spent annuals even presents a dilemma. While some people welcome re-seeding plants, others regret the thousands of descendants that pop up the following year. I compromise and deadhead the ones that are the most notorious propagators like nicotiana, jewels of Opar, etc and even then there are plenty of survivors.

I choose to leave perennials up over winter unless they are already flopping by first snow. I hate the cutting back in spring but find it a fair trade for feeding the birds and critters, in addition to lovely seed heads like these...

 

 

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) provides statuesque beauty and food for the birds

 

 

Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) cuts an interesting silhouette in the garden come fall.

Yesterday at the Wayzata post office I came upon the perfect illustration of the fall cleanup quandary.

Across the street the parks crew were cutting down the Annabelle hydrangeas that flank the entry to the aptly named but seldom used Post Office Park. (This is a whole 'nother blog post, just give me 10K and let me re-design that entry, those cage-like bars are not exactly inviting!).

Anyway I spoke with the head guy and he told me it was all about budgeting for staff. We agreed it doesn't hurt the plant but, oh my, witness the carnage.

 

 

I leave all my Annabelles standing over winter. The chore of trimming them back is still waiting for me when the snow melts,  but it's worth it for sights like this...

 

 

Dried blossoms of Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle", note the lovely leaf pattern too.

And that's probably where the fall cleanup question splits us; do we do it in fall so we can settle down into winter guilt-free or do we leave it until spring when we are ready to get out and tackle anything, just to be outside once more.

 

 

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