No matter where you fall on the issue of fall garden cleanup, you have to appreciate a recent tweet by Benjamin Vogt. He's a poet, gardener and author of Sleep, Creep, Leap, which recounts his adventures in prairie gardening.
"Just prepped my garden for winter by glancing out the office window and sighing. Seriously, why do people do fall clean-up? Nature doesn't."
I guess I fall somewhere close to this 140-characters or less, garden-maintenance manifesto. I don't do much. But I do a little.
I would venture that fall clean up routines are dependent upon gardening styles, weather and peer pressure. The more naturalistic setting can get away with less. While manicured and groomed gardens, like women of the same sort, demand more intense seasonal intervention.
Of course, those of us up north know that good snow cover hides a multitude of sins.
Raking leaves in the crisp autumn air is as much psychological marker as seasonal chore. In neighborhoods where pride of place is present, it's just what you do. I've been known to simply rearrange the leaves to cover the beds for what's known as "lazy (wo)man's mulch". However leaves can get matted and deprive soil of moisture and they create unhealthy conditions when left on lawns.
It's probably most important to remove leaves and other dead material from plants and trees suffering from any fungal issues. Disposing of that debris will help to stop the cycle of reinfection from year to year. Keep it out of your compost too.
Leaving some debris provides beneficial insects and other animals overwintering sites. However it gives all insects, some undesirable, a place too. There is never an easy answer.
Pulling up spent annuals even presents a dilemna. While some people welcome re-seeding plants, others will regret the thousands of descendants that pop up the following year. I compromise and deadhead the ones that are the most notorious propagators like fennel, nicotiana, jewels of Opar, and even then there will still be quite a few survivors.
I choose to leave perennials up over the winter unless they are already flopping before the first snow. I hate the cutting back in spring but find it a fair trade for feeding birds and critters. In addition to lovely seed heads like these...
Yesterday at the post office I came upon the prefect illustration of the fall cleanup quandary.
Across the street the parks crew were cutting down the Annabelle hydrangeas that flank the entry to a local park. I spoke with the head guy and he told me he would like to leave them up but just doesn't have the staff hours to deal with them come spring.
I leave all my Annabelles standing over winter. The chore of trimming them back is still waiting for me when the snow melts, but worth it for this sight.
Dried panicles of Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle", note the lovely leaf pattern too.
And that's probably where the fall cleanup question splits; do we do it in fall so we can settle down into winter guilt free or do we leave it till spring when we are ready to get out and tackle anything, just to be outside.