As the leaves begin to fall and tree branches are left barren, fall yard work can start to pile up. It can even seem a little intimidating, especially when you haven’t gotten started and the weather has turned cold and rainy.
That’s when it might be time to dial things back, stop worrying about getting every last leaf raked and leave some plants standing in your garden. Incidentally, doing less means more for the ecosystems in your yard and garden anyway.
By leaving some things undone and being a bit of a grasshopper, as my mom would say, you can both help the environment and get your yard and garden prepared for winter quicker and with less effort.
Cutting back your garden
You don’t have to cut everything back. In fact, some plants should be left standing.
Annuals. Annuals and plants debris from vegetable gardens should be pulled after the first frost and tossed into the compost pile. Any diseased material should be bagged and thrown in the trash.
Perennials. Some perennials add interest to the landscape, such as ornamental grasses or yucca seed pods, and can be left until spring. Others provide food to birds like the seed heads of purple coneflower. Then there are perennial shrubs and ground covers that provide protection for birds and overwintering insects. For more information on what to leave standing in your garden to help wildlife, read Garden Cleanup: How to help overwintering pollinators.
Additionally, some perennials should be left standing because it’s better for the plant’s survival over the long winter. Some of these varieties include mums and low-growing evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials such as hardy geraniums, heucheras, hellebores and moss phlox. Find more information about cutting perennials back in the fall here.
Preparing your vegetable garden’s plot for winter
After you cut your garden back you should do your final weeding before weeds left in the garden go to seed and produce more new weeds next year.
You may also consider planting a cover crop. Planting a cover crop is a good way to prepare your vegetable garden for next spring. Cover crops protect soil from erosion, compaction and weeds, while helping the soil retain nutrients and providing some pest and disease control. The end of September is an ideal time to plant a cover crop, but some can be planted into October.
Pull, mow or weed out your cover crop before planting your garden in the spring.
While leaving the leaves lay can have benefits for the environment, thick layers of leaves left on your lawn over winter can smother your grass and prevent new growth in the spring. They may also promote snow mold diseases that can damage grass.
One way to prevent damage to your grass and still reap the benefits of leaving them lay is chopping them up with the lawn mower. This way the shredded pieces that are left behind can decompose and return nitrogen to the soil without smothering your grass.
If you have an excess of shredded leaves, you might also consider spreading them in your garden or flower beds to help insulate the soil and protect plant roots.
Composting is also a good way to recycle the nutrients of fallen leaves. Learn how to compost with leaves.
For more information on the benefits of leaving leaves on your lawn read “Leave” autumn leaves on your lawn for a healthy yard and clean water.
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