As the fall approaches, it is a common practice to clean and tidy up the garden before the ground freezes and the plants go dormant or die back for the winter. Before you go about with a heavy handed pruning and cleanup job, here are a few things to consider.

1. Leave Leftover Garden Material for Animals and Insects
Many perennials can be cut back either in the late fall or early spring to allow for new growth to occur. Consider leaving grasses intact and perennials untrimmed over the winter as these can provide valuable shelter and protection from winter winds and snow drifts for local wildlife. In addition to providing visual interest, seed heads from flowers, grasses and other plants can attract birds which in turn keep local pest populations down.

2. Pile Sticks and Twigs for Native Bees
If you have trees and shrubs that have had some branches break off, create a pile of sticks/twigs to provide a nesting site for native bees. Many native bees are solitary and often have their habitats threatened due to loss of green spaces, over landscaped yards and previous use of chemical insecticides. In addition to being more effective pollinators, they are great to have in the garden, don’t sting humans, and contribute to the biodiversity of the environment.

3. Avoid Mulching
Mulching can provide a number of benefits to the garden, however not all areas of the garden should be mulched (Ex. most rose beds). In addition to creating a potential breeding ground for pests and diseases, mulch can cover up and destroy habitats for ground dwelling insects like squash bees. We’re not saying never to mulch, but rather to be strategic about where you choose to mulch.

4. Prune Only When Plants are Fully Dormant
With the exception of dead/diseased plant areas, pruning always stimulates new growth. A common mistake gardeners make is pruning back trees and shrubs in September and October. Unfortunatley what hapens after pruning is that new growth will emerge that is young and tender. Just as this is starting to grow, the weather is turning cold, there is a greater chance of frost damage, and the new growth just isn’t suitable equipped to survive the cold winter months. Instead, wait until plants are dormant (ex. wait until deciduous trees have dropped their leaves before pruning) and the temperatures get colder before doing your pruning. We like to prune fruit trees in February or March.

Cover Image by CountryMouse13, used under its Creative Commons license.

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