As I work and try to maintain a balance with nature in the garden, one of the things I have learned is not to waste what nature gives us for free. Many of us are out cleaning up our garden beds, clearing leaves, pulling out annual flowers in the hopes the garden will be nice and tidy.
What many people don’t realize is that as they clean up the leaves they are removing habitat that would be used by overwintering insects. Some people would say good riddance but ninety percent of our insects are good ones and we need to keep them. If we get rid of the good insects what’s going to take care of your pesky ones? It’s a reality that insects are disappearing due to high pesticide use and loss of habitat. We cannot live without them.
So as you work in the garden this fall, rake the leaves on your garden beds and leave them there. You don’t see mother nature cleaning up the leaves in the forest so why are we? We have adopted this perfect garden mentality which is crazy and more work than anyone needs.There is no such thing as the perfect garden.
Leaving the leaves to decompose in the garden will prevent soil loss, create habitat for overwintering insects, add nutrients to the garden and act as winter protection. If you have large amounts of leaves, run them over with the lawnmower and add them to garden beds or place in heavy-duty plastic bags to create leaf mold. That’s one year old leaf mold in the above photo.
We save a large amount of shredded leaves to be used in our vegetable garden each fall. You could also use them in the heat of summer as a mulch to prevent moisture loss. Watering less is a godsend to most gardeners as our summers often mean months with no rainfall.
In the fall and spring save your untreated grass clippings to add to the compost bin and to the garden beds so it adds nitrogen back to the soil.
Cleaning up in the fall can be left until the spring. I was once one of those gardeners who cut everything back each fall. One fall I was injured and had to watch the garden fall to the ground as frost came and winter arrived. You know what, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. You see, raking up mushy plants in spring is much easier than clipping hundreds of stems in the fall. Sure, you will have some plants that will need cutting back but they will be few.
For instance look at these Hostas. A week ago they were still in colour but have now faded to a rich golden colour. Soon they will fade to white and become transparent and by spring they will be gone.
I live on a property with more trees and leaves than we can use in the garden so what do we do? Yes, we do end up leaving some for curbside but not before we have shredded as many as we can and stored them away for next year. So if you want some leaves, we always have lots to spare.