Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Winter Cleaning?

Not in my garden. I garden organically and that means, among other things, a live and let live attitude. There used to be a time when gardeners would clean up their garden around October time. Out would come all the annuals and perennials, and the shrubs and rose bushes would be cut down to the ground. All the leaves would be removed from the lawn and borders and thrown away. In short, a kind of scorched earth policy would be implemented and the end result would be a vast stretch of bare earth where once the flowers were blooming and the bees buzzing.
Well, as I said, not in my garden. Why not? For various reasons actually. First and foremost if the gardener removes just about everything from the garden and cuts down the rest, where would all the beneficial insects such as ladybirds shelter during the cold winter? Where would our other garden friends such as frogs, toads and hedgehogs find a warm place to overwinter?
And the birds, especially the ones that eat mostly insects, where would they find food? The vast stretches of bare earth do not cater to the needs of our feathered garden friends at all; no insects, no seeds, no berries etc. My borders provide the birds with ample opportunities to find insects, seeds and berries during winter, and to make doubly sure that my feathered friends have enough to eat I also provide them with bird feeders and water and they love it! I love it too because in the dull winter months the birds make my garden come alive. I love watching birds and so do all the members of the Bliss team.

The second reason why I do not winter clean my garden is that by cutting everything down to the ground you expose your plants and shrubs to frost and run the risk of losing them due to frost damage over winter. I do not remove annuals, nor do I cut down or tidy up my borders. I let things be. The only thing I do is remove a branch that's in the way, or one that is overly long and could get wind damaged during the autumn storms. That's it!

I do, however, remove the fallen leaves from my lawn but I do not throw them away. The majority is put into plastic garbage bags. I just stuff the leaves into the bags, add a liter of water, tie the bag up and punch a few holes in it here and there. Then I leave the bags for months and months, sometimes checking to see if they need some more water to help the decomposing process along, and in the end I'm left with glorious leaf mould that I can use in the garden.
The leaves that don't go into the bin bags, I put on my borders to protect the plants against the cold and frost. It is not a good idea to prune your plants back hard in autumn because that's a good way of losing them to frost damage. When the frost hits the stems freeze up, if the stems are long only the upper part will be frozen but not the rest. If the stems are very short, they will be frozen completely and killed and the heart of the plant will get frozen and die too.

If you want your garden to provide you with some interest in winter too, then don't cut everything down to the ground. There are many plants that have lovely seed heads that will look good in the coming months. Others produce berries that will cheer your winter garden up. Ornamental grasses looks great in wintertime so don't cut them down.
Let their beauty gladden your heart in the depths of winter. And if there's snow it will turn your garden into something magical like this.
Do you really think a bare patch of earth covered with snow would even look half as good as this?

So you see, gardening organically actually saves on time and labour. ;-) Of course there are still a lot of things to do in my organic garden this time of year: collecting leaves for making leaf mould and spreading the rest of the leaves around my borders, cleaning garden paths to make sure they won't be slippery in the coming months, weeding, putting the pots with tender plants into the conservatory and greenhouse, planting up the pots that stay outside and putting several hundreds of bulbs into the ground.

Come Spring all I have to do is clean my borders up a bit when the earth has warmed up enough and the air is nice and warm. A very light task as most of it has decomposed over winter and the very little that is left is easily cut and thrown into the compost bins.

Gardening with nature is so much easier than gardening against it.
copyright 2007: Y.E.W. Heuzen

Summer, you old Indian Summer
You're the tear that comes after June-time's laughter
You see so many dreams that don't come true
Dreams we fashioned when Summertime was new.
written by Al Dubin, sung by Frank Sinatra
'Indian Summer', 1939


Vanillalotus said...

That is such a great way to garden. You are right why fight what mother nature has perfected. Good luck with your remaining garden chores.

Pam/Digging said...

Hear, hear, Yolanda Elizabet! You've spelled out several great reasons not to "clean up" the fall garden.

Here in warm Austin, I mark Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) as garden clean-up day, when I cut back my frost-bitten perennials in preparation for spring growth. The only things I cut back earlier are those that turn into unattractive black mush after a freeze.

Thanks for your winter photos reminding us of how beautiful an "off-season" garden can be.

Annie in Austin said...

Your sensible methods are similar to the way we garden here in Austin, Yolanda - perhaps because the coldest temperatures in your climate zone are not so different from parts of Texas and Carolina according to this European climate zone map. [right click to open in new window]

I left much of the vegetation uncut in Illinois and when tied tightly into sheaves, we could enjoy the grasses until March. But some plants needed to be cut in the Northern USA: fierce winter winds would catch tall stems and rock the plants, pulling the plants out of the ground, exposing roots, so we took our perennials down to 10 inches.

Any large leaves, such as sycamore and maple, had to be removed before they rotted the crowns of perennials. Peony stalks were cut below soil level and the leaves put in the trash, to help keep botyris wilt at bay.

I realize that global warming may have changed the numbers, but my Illinois garden regularly experienced -15º F/26ºC with a couple of years much lower than that.

Large trees like Spruces offered some protection for the birds brave enough to stay. I used to walk out with a kettle of boiling water for the concrete birdbath - wishing for one of those immersible heating coils to keep the water from freezing.

Yolanda, you've sent me on a nostalgia trip! I hope you don't mind such a long comment.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Entangled said...

Keeping the leaves in garbage bags sounds like a great idea. If I can find a place where they won't be too visible, I plan to try that with a few bags this winter.

My harbinger-of-winter birds (dark-eyed juncos) showed up at the feeders this morning. It seems too early...

Connie said...

I clean up my vegetable beds and dispose of spent plants, but leave my flower beds alone until spring. The birds enjoy the seeds and I enjoy the birds!
Your last photo with the arbor is a very pretty area.

Layanee said...

YE: Great post! I rarely clean out the borders unless there are leaves covering some creeping evergreens. Leaves in bags to compost sounds like a great idea for the urban gardener. You could even insulate the foundations with those bags. Unsightly perhaps but effective! The snow picture really shows the advantage of leaving the border alone!

Hanneles paradise said...

Great photos, lot of things to do in October.

marga said...

Laat het nou zo zijn dat ik het dit jaar ook eens zo wou gaan proberen....dus dat is toch een goed idee?
Prachtige kat trouwens in je vorige logje....heel mooi.

Angela (Cottage Magpie) said...

Your garden is, as always, breathtaking. And I completely agree with not "cleaning up"--I do take out the excess leaves so they won't choke the grass, but otherwise I prefer to see the structure of the flowerheads and hopefully birds after the seeds. Lovely! ~A :-)

Kylee said...

I agree with Annie. Here in zone 5, some cleaning up is a must. If we let the leaves fall where they may, there would be lots of rotting going on by spring with many things. You just wouldn't believe how many leaves we get here at Our Little Acre. Some beds get totally covered, as if it were snowing leaves.

It's not a case of cutting all or none here, or cutting all the way to the ground. There is plenty left for winter interest, but the vegetable garden does get cleaned out and all leftovers put into the compost pile.

You're right about cutting things down to the ground though. Anything I do cut is generally only down to about 10 inches, like Annie said. Roses are one exception, because we have about 18 inches of dieback here, so I don't prune my roses much at all anymore. Only the excessively long stems so they don't get wind-whipped when they're brittle from the freezing and then break off.

There's a happy medium, I think, depending on circumstances. But I'm all for letting things go natural when we can!

Rosehaven Cottage said...

A big AMEN and a HEAR HEAR! You practice the very same things I do! It's such a blessing, isn't it? I just love your description of how alive your garden is in the winter with all the birds. We have the same thing here. Stuff doesn't get a "haircut" until spring when it's ready to bloom again. Thank you for a well-written post that can educated so many! Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Your garden is lovely no matter what the season. Your methods are obviously working for you.

I just did some more cleaning up here today, removing the rest of the impatiens, cosmos, and zinnias. They are just too ugly after a frost for me to keep.

Bare Bones Gardener said...

Great scenes in all seasons, beautiful

SchneiderHein said...

Da sind wir ganz einer Meinung. Und wenn einige Stauden durch Wind, Frost oder Schnee dann nachher am Boden liegen, dann nehme ich nur die Schere und schneide es an Ort und Stelle als Pflanzen-Schutz wieder klein.
Ich finde es im Gegensatz zu vielen Gartenbesitzern sehr reizvoll, wenn im Frühjahr die frischen Austriebe aus dem vergehenden Laub hervorkommen. Dieses Wechselspiel von Erwachen und Vergehen ist doch gerade das, was Natur so reizvoll macht. Was gibt es im Frühjahr schöneres als im Wald die Buschwindröschen über altem Buchenlaub zu sehen...
Liebe Grüße Silke

Brimstone said...

Helemaal met je eens, geen gestofzuiger en gepoets in de tuin. Die kan in de winter prima voor zichzelf zorgen.

Goeie tip van het composteren van blad in vuilniszakken, bedankt.

Gadisa said...

ja hoor, ook ik ben het er helemaal mee eens ...
je foto's, zo leuk en lief om te zien ... dat egeltje, toch helemaal geweldig! en vogeltjes kijken is ook een nieuwe hobby van ons... echt ik ben zo blij met ons tuintje ... heerlijk!

Tracy said...

Beautiful photos...your garden ins like a dream come true! I really like your "live and let live" approach to fall/winter gardening. I think I may employ some of that this year. Although the leaves do have to be raked up ;o) Happy Day ((HUGS))

Ki said...

It's really cool that you have a hedgehog in your garden though I thought they ate mostly earthworms? Last year we got lazy and and didn't do the scorched earth clean up we usually do and the plants seem to have done a bit better. The host on a radio garden show did say that leaves make great mulch but should be shredded before used so it wouldn't create a soggy damp mat which would suffocate plants. We didn't do that last year and the plants seem to do ok but I guess we'll shred leaves this year. The snow photo convinced me not to do the cleanup. ;)

Birgit said...

Ich lasse im Herbst das meiste, wie abgeblühte Stauden etc. auch stehen. Für die Insekten, Igel und andere Tiere im Garten. Lediglich die Pfingsrosen habe ich geschnitten. Die sahen nicht mehr schön aus.
Die gesamten Schneidearbeiten mache ich meistens so um Ostern rum.

Schönen Abend noch und liebe Grüße

marl1 said...

Ik kies ook voor 'let it be' in plaats van 'winterklaar'....en die gevulde vuilniszakken staan hier ook al ;-)) Mooie bladaarde levert dat op hè!
Schattig egeltje heb je gekiekt!
Vandaag heb ik een voederschuur(huisje met zadeldak) voor vogels gekregen in zweeds rood (ook in het scandinavisch geel te koop;)en daar kunnen verschillende soorten voer in, waar grote vogels niet bij kunnen...zo leuk :-)

jodi said...

Very good post, Yolanda Elizabet; I do a bit of cleanup but mostly just to get rid of things like really annoying weeds (chickweed, burdocks, couchgrass) that I don't want to be battling in the spring. Most of the perennials stay standing, except those perhaps that I've decided to divide and replant, like Jacob's ladder--which must be divided regularly or else it expires rudely here! We don't have hedgehogs, but we do have a plentitude of toads, frogs, salamanders and other welcome creatures. There are plenty of chores to do (like emptying containers and cleaning them before storing) and sharpening/cleaning tools, etc--but not a lot of actual 'cleanup.' Oh, and a whole lot of bulbs to put in...

Curtis said...

I totally agree with this. Back then people thought that it made the garden neater.

But It protects the stems and roots of plants in the winter. I don't even rake my leaves on my lawn. But this year I may do that thanks to your suggestion on putting the leaves in bags and adding water.

LostRoses said...

Yes, Yolanda, live and let live! Especially in the garden. Yesterday I saw a woman working in her yard and what do you think she was doing? Cutting the lovely plumes off the top of her Pampas grass and stuffing them into a garbage can. Grrr! I guess we could also say "to each his own" but they are not as wise as you!

Petunia's Gardener said...

You have hedgehogs too?! We don't, but someone else posted recently. What characters. I'm leaving the seed bearing flower heads in the winter garden. I hope the birds & other critters will enjoy and they do add a nice texture to the flat winter garden.

karin a said...

Once again - I totally agree with you and actually do almost the same. Live and let live is also my way of gardening! I acutually try to find plants that look good even during the winter, when we have snow. :)

Except for the brilliant idea of putting leaves in bags. Most of our leaves are used directly in the borders. But I will surely try that as well.

How's the weather in Netherlands now? We have had lots of rain lately and therefore not much gardening going on. Have a nice thursday!

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Hi all and welcome to organic Bliss. ;-)

* Vanillalotus: I've been gardening for quite some time now and have found that fighting mother nature doesn't work.

* Pam: I usually do a light clean up around March/April depending on the temperature of both soil and air. Sure, plants that have been frozen to an unattractive mush are removed by me too, the rest stays.

* Annie, I do so enjoy the way you approach gardening with solid research! Thanks for the link!

Of course different climes dictate slightly different approaches as to how you prepare the garden for winter.

In winter time I usually go out with a kettle of boiling water too so that the birds can have a drink. Either that or I put a bit of sugar in the water which keeps the water from freezing quickly too.

And Annie, I love long comments like yours as I'm always interested in what my fellow garden bloggers have to say!

* Entangled : I've put mine behind the garden cottage so way out of sight. ;-)

* Connie : Some vegetables you have to remove to prevent certain diseases in the kitchen garden. So some beds I do clean. Yes, we enjoy the arbor too, the autumn colours are so pretty at the moment.

* Layanee: glad you enjoyed it and that we are of like mind. ;-) The ugly bags are hidden behind my garden cottage so they are no eyesore!

* Hannele: as you know a gardener's job is never done, not even in October. ;-)

* Marga: leuk dat je het ook gaat proberen en veel succes. Je krijgt het beste resultaat door de bladeren wat fijn te maken en er voor te zorgen dat het geheel in de zakken vochtig blijft dus af en toe wat water erbij mikken.
Ja, mijn Dolleke is prachtig, van binnen en van buiten. ;-)

* Angela: Thanks for your lovely compliment and I'm glad we share the same view on how NOT to clean up the garden for winter.

* Kylee: I clean up most of the leaves too and then put them to good use in making leaf mould out of them. In my borders I remove the leaves from the top of the plants and shove them underneath the leaves and around the stalks of plants to give them some protection against the frost and freezing winds we have in winter.

Yes, there was a time when gardeners were adviced to cut down the shrub roses severely for winter with disastrous results.

I agree on the happy medium that's why I wrote : not in my garden. ;-)

* Cindy: glad you both enjoyed and agreed. ;-)

* Robin: to each his/her own. If you can't stand certain plants go ugly then by all means remove them as long as you let most plants alone for winter interest and to help our garden friends through the winter.

Kris at Blithewold said...

This is great! I'm all for winter interest and wildlife hideouts in the garden but at Blithewold there are a couple of gardens we have to "clean up" in the fall for the sake of appearances. We suffer casualties in those gardens every year too and although there are still plenty of places for critters on the property, I worry! I was actually wanting to do a post on the different schools of thought about garden clean up this week and if I get it done, I'll post a link to yours...

lisa said...

Great post, Yolanda! I like the way you wrote this, so as to bring some other gardener's around...I don't clean up, either-except in spring. Works really well for me, too!

Angelina said...

I love your approach. I never winterize or clean my garden at this time of year because I never get around to it. I always clean up in spring. You have some excellent arguments for mostly leaving things as they are.

I hope I get snow this year.

kate said...

I have never quite understood the fall 'scorched earth' policy that so many gardeners follow here. Until the snow falls, I find it quite depressing to see those large barren patches of dirt, looking rather forlorn without any vegetation to liven them up. There is a beauty in fallen leaves and dead plants and so I have always left things be. It has been a successful way to garden for me, originally started after having read many years ago to leave the decaying stems and leaves of plants be. It does provide great winter interest to see seedheads poking out of the snow drifts. I have been on the receiving end of more than a few lectures about wintering over 'deadly fungi', but I think the proof is in the healthy look of my garden from spring through fall.

One of my great joys in springtime is to come across ladybugs hidden under dead leaves. Off they go for another summer's adventure...

KC MO Garden Guy said...

Yolanda, I agree with you 100%. It makes sense and that is the way mother nature has done it of years, so why change when it isn't broke. I really enjoy your posts, Keep up the good posts;)....Cliff

Rosemarie said...

Thank you for giving us such a great explanation. I mostly follow these rules but I wasn't sure why. Now I do - thank! and I loved the photos of Dolly!

JAZEVOX said...

the leaves in the garbage bags sounds really new to me and very cool idea for making mulches without buying the expensive mulching containers

Ewa said...

YE, yes thats a great and only sensible approach if we want to support the mother nature and help to save it for next generations.
I am pretty 'fresh' gardener, cos I do it since 3 years. I want to 'run' my garden in bio-dynamic way, but it takes time and patients to do it. 90% of gardening magazines is so much 'chemical' influenced. Garden centers are not prepared for organic gardening at all. Sometimes that makes me so fed up.
So, one has to get really hooked to that idea in order to search for knowledge and tips how to make organic gardening.
Luckily I managed to find some really good books about it, which are great help.
Still organic gardening helps us to exercise patience... so we also get better with our organic garden.
Thank you for your lovely post.
Do you mind if I link you on my blog?

Bert said...

Hi Yolanda,

Again an inspiring story about why not to clean your garden (to much).
Live and let live (the insects)
Clear opinion on this subject.



Carol said...

Hi Yolanda... I believe in doing some garden clean up, but some areas remain 'as is'. In zone 5, we get very cold in the winter, and can have freezing and thawing, so good composting is a must, as is putting away most garden ornaments. I'll have to figure out what your equivalent hardiness zone is.

chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous said...

I'm with you Yolanda.
I leave a carpet of leaves and debris during the winter. I do things a little differently here because we don't get snow or hard frosts but I do a minimal or clean up during the winter.

gardenmomma (Chris) said...

Wonderful post! I practice the half/half view, cleaning what needs to be and leaving what can be. Your photos are just wonderful. I just love the things I learn from you! Chris

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Hi all and welcome to organic Bliss!

* Bare Bones Gardener: welcome and glad you liked it!

* Silke: yes, I like that contrast between the decay and the sprouting of new life, very inspiring and uplifting too. It's the circle of life.

* Brimstone: hihi, inderdaad dat gestofzuiger in de tuin, waar gaat dat over? Je doet meer kwaad dan goed.

* Gadisa: heerlijk dat je zo blij bent met je tuintje en al je tuinvriendjes. Vogels kijken is erg leuk.

* Tracy: we are all part of nature so let's play our part as it is intended and take care not to ruin things for other creatures. I rake up the leaves too and put most in big bags to make leaf mould. All that goodness will return to mother earth.

* Ki : hedgehogs eat worms but slugs too and they love the catfood I put out for them too. ;-)

It is a good idea to shred the leaves a bit before you put them in the bags. I use my lawnmower for that or the shredder.

* Birgit: I'm glad to read that you leave your garden in peace too. Just a very little clean up where necessary but that's it!

* Marl1: hihi, we denken en doen weer eens hetzelfde. Ja, leuk he dat egeltje. Ik moest wel snel zijn met kieken want het had haast.

Dat vogelhuisje klinkt heel erg leuk, enig idee waar te koop?

* Jodi: you and I have the same method, some work is done but an Autumn clean in our gardens is a no no.

* Curtis: unfortunately there are still a lot of gardeners about who think that they have to clean up the garden this time of year. That's why I wrote this post. I find it very encouraging that so many of my fellow garden bloggers aren't into cleaning either. Good luck with making leaf mould!

* LostRoses: Grrrrrr indeed. Why destroy beauty you could have enjoyed for months to come. I'm not grokking that.

* Petunia's Gardener: yes there are hedgehogs in the Netherlands. They go into hibernation in winter so I make sure that they have a nice warm place to hibernate in (a big old compost heap). Hedgehogs are great in the garden as they munch on so many slugs. ;-)

* Karin: we think alike. I also go for plants that look good in winter too. The weather is still very mild, no real night frost yet.