Steele: Final garden clean-up before winter

Now, two things I really enjoy in winter are watching songbirds…and the plants themselves when they are clad in snow or hoar frost.

Gaillardia ‘Burgundy’ will bloom from June to frost. Through winter

When doing fall clean-up, mimicking nature saves time and energy

As I write this, my home garden has yet to experience a killing frost so I haven’t done much to prepare it for winter.

Forty years ago, in my first garden, this would have had me in a bit of a panic.

In those days I followed the advice of CBC-BC gardener Bernard Moore, who said it was much easier to clear everything away in the fall.

I didn’t know what I was missing.

Now, two things I really enjoy in winter are watching songbirds, such as chickadees and juncos, who feast on seeds of plants I have left for them, and the plants themselves when they are clad in snow or hoar frost.

My nature-friendly fall clean-up list consists mostly of a thorough weeding, removal to the green bin of any diseased vegetation, and a final mowing of my small piece of lawn.

I leave all perennial and ornamental grass vegetation that has structure and so, will stand up through winter.

In addition to providing seeds for birds, the dead vegetation is a winter home to beneficial insects that kept pests under control throughout the growing season.

For many years,I have left leaves where they fall under my honey locust tree. The dry shade-loving perennials underneath it benefit from the insulating layer in winter and leaves provide nesting places for beneficial insects.

In spring, perennials and bulbs poke through. The leaves form a natural, moisture-retentive mulch that gradually breaks down to add nutrients to the soil. These are then available to the tree and the plants beneath it.

This closed-loop waste cycle, where nutrients constantly cycle through the vegetation in that eco-system, mimics what happens in nature.

It saves me time and labour—no leaf raking in fall and no mulch spreading in spring. It also saves money not having to buy mulch materials each year.

I wait until all leaves have fallen on the lawn before doing a final mowing.

Then grass can be cut and cherry leaves shredded at the same time, making a good balanced, carbon-nitrogen compost material. I generally leave this on the lawn to feed the soil, creating more cost and energy savings in another closed-loop waste system.

Sometimes I use the clippings to mulch plants or layer into the compost.

I used to remove vegetation that was flattened by frost (e.g. daylilies and hostas).

Now I follow the permaculture method of chop and drop. I either leave them to rot in place over winter, or cut them off and tuck them under a nearby plant or shrub.

Although I love to garden, I welcome winter as a rest from gardening activities, a time to enjoy the garden views and visitors from inside my warm house, and a time for reflection.

Remember to collect jack-o-lanterns after Halloween to add to your compost.