Garden clean-up the lazy, I mean cheap, I mean environmentally friendly way

Garden clean-up the lazy, I mean cheap, I mean environmentally friendly way

The flowers have faded and all that’s left is a dingy, tangled, overgrown mess. Human nature, or the dirty look from a neighbor, beckons you to tidy up. You could ignore that call and retreat into your winter den for the next three months. After all, nature would probably like that best. But if you must, here’s some advice on how to approach fall garden clean-up.

1. Leave the Leaves

You’ve likely heard this one before, but it bears repeating. You don’t have to spend an entire weekend (or four) raking, bagging, and lugging your leaves away. Your lawn and garden are happy to have the compost, and next year’s fireflies, moths, and other creatures are overwintering there.

For a thin layer of leaves: Take the dust bag off your mower and run it over the leaves, chopping them into tiny bits to feed your lawn. Leave the rest on your garden beds, where they’ll eventually break down and feed the soil. Don’t like how the leaves look on top of your garden? You can sprinkle a very thin layer of mulch or pine straw on top for aesthetic purposes.

For a thick layer of leaves: Rake a big pile into some unused portion of the yard and leave them there. Next year you can dig underneath that pile and find free compost for your shrubs and trees. Or finally admit that a shady portion of your “lawn” hasn’t supported more than a few blades of grass for year. Rake the leaves there to form a new garden bed for understory trees, shrubs, or ferns. Again, you can sprinkle mulch or pine straw on top if you like.

2. Don’t Prune Too Much

Of course you can prune those shrubs back into tidy meatballs if that’s your taste. I’m more concerned about the perennials that have gone brown and dormant for the winter. Finches eat the seeds of sun flowers, cone flowers, and grasses. If you must cut back your perennials, leave about 12 inches for hollow stems. Bees and other insects will nest in them.

3. Plant Next Year’s Garden the Lazy Way

You’ll need to yank out your dead annual vegetables to prevent disease, but there’s nothing wrong with leaving tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash rotting on the ground. If you can’t bear the sight, throw a few leaves on top. Most of the seeds will be eaten by wildlife, but the rest could return as next year’s garden without any effort by you. If no plants result, you’ve still built an excellent layer of compost. I’ve made a tradition of finding a spot in the garden to “plant” my decorative pumpkins once Halloween has passed. Each year I’ve ended up with one of the healthiest, strongest pumpkin plants I’ve ever seen. (Note: keep in mind that there’s no guarantee you’ll get the same tomato variety or squash variety that grew before.)

Now that you’ve done as little as possible, sit back, relax, and start dreaming about next year’s garden.

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