As the leaves start dropping, many gardener's attention turns to fall garden cleanup. While this is an autumn tradition, there's some new advice about how and when to cleanup the yard and garden that might help make the work easier and help our bees, beneficial insects and birds.
The best way for me to remember these new tips is to think of one of my commands for our dogs, “leave it.” Leaves on the lawn should be mowed and left to decompose. This creates a thin leaf layer that earthworms will feed on and enhance the soil. Thick layers of leaves do have to be removed and used to make piles in the backyard that will decompose into leaf mold compost.
In our flower gardens, if you have cone-producing flowers, such as echinacea, helenium, daisies and rudbeckia, leave the spent flowers. The black cones are filled with seeds that small birds love. I love watching the gold finch and chickadees feast on the seed well into November. After the birds are finished, then it's time to cut back the plants.
But even then, the new advice is to leave the chopped cuttings in the garden unless they're disease and insect infested. These cuttings will cover the soil with a mulch that feeds the plants as it breaks down and provides a wintering place for beneficial insects and caterpillars that will be bird food in spring. And it's less work for us as well.
Also, weed out perennial weeds, such as quack grass and dandelions, add compost around plants and mulch to get your garden ready to grow next spring.