Easy Fall Garden Cleanup: Benefits Of Leaving Your Garden Alone

Rake In A Pile Of Leaves
(Image credit: schulzie)

Who feels like cleaning up the garden in autumn? Very few gardeners look forward to tackling this housekeeping task so, when there‘s a suggestion that lawn and garden cleanup in autumn is not a good idea, it’s worth listening carefully. 

While it’s all very well to tidy up the garden in winter, moderation is the key. As you work your way through fall garden chores, such as clearing out garden beds and raking up leaves, here are some fall cleanup tips to keep in mind.

Lawn and Garden Cleanup

As autumn brings cooler temperatures and brisk breezes, many gardeners start on their regular lawn and garden cleanup. The list of fall garden chores usually includes clearing out annual beds, cutting back perennials and raking up autumn leaves. There is no doubt that this type of autumn cleanup leaves the yard looking neater, but is it helpful to the plants and wildlife?

There are good arguments for cutting back on cleanup this fall. For example, one part of fall garden bed preparation is often clearing out the debris of this year’s garden. But both flora and fauna will do better if some of that is left in place. Nothing beats a carpet of fallen leaves to insulate the soil and provide a safe haven where butterfly larvae and other beneficial insects can spend the winter. Frogs and salamanders also use these leaves for cover. 

How To Care for Perennial Beds in the Fall 

If you are wondering how to care for perennial beds in the fall, just remove diseased leaves or damaged foliage and allow the rest to stand in place. Those fallen leaves and stands of spent stalks offer protection to tender plants from freezing temperatures. Allowing most garden debris to stay in place can insulate against winter’s chill. This is especially helpful for perennials that are only marginally hardy.

Another reason to leave last year’s foliage in place is to be sure you remember it’s there. Think of these not as detritus but as place-savers, especially important for plants that emerge in late spring. It’s all too easy to forget they are there and plant over them. 

Fall Cleanup Tips

It’s always a good idea to assist the wildlife in your area since they are important elements in a garden. Going easy on fall garden bed preparation helps. Leaving grass and seedheads standing through the winter gives beneficial insects a safe place to spend the cold months and can also provide sustenance for non-migrating birds and small mammals. 

One of my favorite fall cleanup chores is gathering shrub and tree clippings into a brush pile in a far corner of the garden. This serves as a safe house for birds, but also small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Placing evergreen branches on the top of the pile offers extra protection and warmth and insulation against freezing temperatures. 

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.