Blowing, raining, storm after storm. Finally, the ground is showing signs of recovering from this summer’s drought. The fall leaves have been spectacular this year. Beautiful colors because we had a good rain followed by cold temperatures. The garden beds are a mess at my house and the thought of raking and raking makes me anxious. However, there is a new train of thought about fall clean up that is making its way to main stream. Leaf litter left lying on the ground is actually very useful. I will have to admit that sometimes the last leaf hits the ground before the rake comes out and that can be the end of November for alder leaves. Last year the sodden rainy winter we had the raking had to wait for a few dry days. Pulling off large branches from trees and uncovering plants that were buried was done but general raking, cutting back and tidying were much delayed. Even so, I observed that the beds under the leaf litter were soft, mostly weed free and soil looked amazing. This is evidence of a new school of thought, Garden Messy for Wildlife. Here are a few ideas for you…
- Leave things with seeds (many things in my garden) up and not cut back until the birds and beasties have had their fill. This could mean January in some areas. Grasses, perennials, annuals, and shrubby fruits should all be left to provide winter habitat and food for birds, and other animals.
- Leaf litter left undisturbed in many areas creates habitat for nesting mice, butterfly cocoons, caterpillars, ladybugs and many more beneficial insects. Snakes, although really yucky, are very useful in the garden and the leaf litter creates an insulating layer for their little dens. Some bees nest in the ground and the leaves provide cover for them too.
- Speaking of insulation. Leaf litter will protect soil from being washed away and will insulate plants that may need protection from an extreme winter weather, including cold winds.
- I have a big area of lawn grass that I let go to seed every year. Under the apple trees the grass can grow up to 3 feet high. Just before the weather gets so bad that the grass lays down I cut it down and leave it. The seeds go back into the ground or become food for overwintering birds, mice, voles, and other inhabitants of the grassy field. (yes I’m very careful, mow on highest setting, and go slow to give ample running away room for small animals living there) I mow it again in the spring when the weather becomes about 50 degrees and the first signs of new growth start to appear. This is the ultimate lazy method for sustainable pasture and mulching. With the added advantage of not mowing weekly as the former owner did.
- Separating the fallen branches and leaving them on site in a pile will also create habitat for overwintering animals. After the weather warms in the spring (about 50) and the inhabitants have moved on or hatched out you can remove whatever hasn’t composted.
There are three areas that I do clean up right away. The area under the large maple in the front yard has so many leaves that it will actually kill the lawn underneath it. I blow them into a hollow near the stream or mulch them and add them to the compost pile. I also clean up rose leaves and pull plants from the vegetable garden. Rose leaves can keep mold and mildew close to the rose plants which will transfer back on to the new leaves in the spring. The veg garden needs to be cleaned up so pests can’t stay in the beds ready to pounce in the spring. Snails and slugs would hang out in the rotting vegetation if left in the beds. I also continue to use slug control by the kale, broccoli and leafy greens throughout the year. We never get so cold that they die completely.
Here is a link to “Garden Messy, Pledge to be a Lazy Gardener”
It has a lot of great information about conserving habitat in the garden. You can even pledge to be the Lazy Gardener on the site. So have a seat, look outside and enjoy the lazy days in front of the fire.