I recently read to articles on the timeliness of articles when pertaining to horticulture practices for homeowners. One was too late and the other was just in time. I hope this one is just in time as the weather is getting colder and the days shorter. Now that autumn is really here, we begin to think about cleanups and cutbacks and raking leaves. Yikes!
To get a jump on next year’s work, many of us try to get as much down in the fall as possible to make spring less of a hassle. However, by doing this, we are reducing the importance of our landscape in winter. Many perennials and grasses help feed birds through the winter, lessening the amount of birdseed we need to buy for our feathered friends.
When it comes to perennials, I always recommend cutting back anything that gets mushy (hostas, daylilies, iris), falls over walkways, or is a potential hazard in ice and snow falls. Perennials such as coneflower, rudbeckia, asters, mums, milkweeds, and others I leave for the birds and insects. Many insects (both good and bad) overwinter in stems and leaf debris in the garden. By removing this debris, we also may be removing next year’s best helpers (beneficial insects and pollinators).
Grasses should be left standing whenever possible for their winter beauty is inspiring in any landscape. Many grasses also provide seeds for birds through the winter.
Annuals should be removed from the beds as soon as they are killed by frost or freeze. These bed areas can then be planted to bulbs for early spring color, or mix in some organic matter and cover with mulch to improve the soil for next season. Bulbs should be added in wherever there is room, in beds, around trees, and in natural areas to add that little burst of early color next year.
Leaves should be removed or mulched into the lawn (except if excessive). However, I recommend putting all leaves into a compost pile or running them through a shredder and using them for mulch. Burning leaves or taking them to the dump removes valuable nutrients and organic matter from your yard. These can be recycled back into the soil to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed net year.
And remember, enjoy the autumn colors!