By Dawn Weber
Member-at-Large, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
Does this unseasonably nice weather have you itching to go out and clean up the garden? By February, things may be looking a little ragged. Strong winds have knocked over some of the taller plants, indigo “tumbleweeds” are blowing around, and there are leaves everywhere.
When the first sign of warmer weather comes, as gardeners, we want to get out there and work, but there are good reasons to wait.
By leaving the garden standing in the fall, we’ve given the insects cozy homes to stay in until spring. Even though the weather has warmed early, they may not be ready to come out yet. It’s possible we’ll still have another cold snap before spring really arrives.
There’s no negative effect (in terms of the insects or the plants) of leaving things in place longer, but depending on the location of your garden you may want to factor in the neighbors, consider your spring activities, etc. and get a head start.
You can remove last year’s growth but keep it as intact as possible, and put it in another location in the yard, so that you’re accomplishing the cleanup, but also giving the insects time to come out when they’re ready. I leave the leaves in place longer than the stems, because so many critters overwinter in the leaf litter.
One of my favorite finds on the internet is a brochure from the American Museum of Natural History about the invertebrates that live in the leaf litter. Some I knew about, others I didn’t, and now I’m on the lookout for activity in that layer of the garden.
Last year I left things in place until the end of March, and started clearing the previous year’s growth away as I saw the plants start to emerge. The linked article suggests April 1 for our area. This year I’ve already started doing some cutting down in the front yard but keeping the stems intact and moving them to the backyard, because I know that my spring is going to be super busy and I want my neighbors to keep loving my native landscape.
Next winter, I plan to use this sign in the front yard to let my neighbors know why I leave everything in place.
When do you plan to clean up your yard? And what tips can you share?