Close up of dirty hands with a small beetle crawling across them.

Garden Clean up…wait till spring.

As we enter the fall season, I would like to encourage you to keep your plants standing as long as possible before cleaning them up.. Many perennials and grasses provide excellent winter structure and interest. The stems, berries, seed heads and the colouring leaves all add a lovely dimension to the fall and winter garden.  As the frost and snow arrive they create interesting patterns on the declining foliage of the summer perennials.  The decaying foliage and leaves protect the soil around the base of the plants like a blanket, while nurturing the insects such as ground beetles that live at the soil surface.

Predatory ground beetles are an essential ally for gardeners and help maintain a balanced slug population. This predatory species burrows and hides in twiggy material, and decaying leaves on the surface of the garden. They move quickly over the soil surface and feed on slugs and snails by inserting digestive enzymes into them and sucking out the contents of the slugs as they break down.When we are fastidious about making our gardens tidy, we destroy the habitat that allows these beetles to thrive, depriving us of some much needed assistance in patrolling slug populations.  By providing sanctuary, your garden can be a healthier and more balanced ecosystem.

Likewise, the spent flower heads of shrubs, grasses and perennials are an excellent food source for overwintering bird species, and by leaving these plants standing you will attract birds and wildlife to your outdoor space.  Some of the branches and stems of the plants are great overwintering spots for insects such as ground beetles  This in turn attracts birds that feast on worms and grubs, keeping a perfect balance in our garden.

Our perception of beauty has been taught by the world around us. Books and magazines often showcase gardens that are perfectly manicured and often showcased at their best in summer’s abundance.Gardens where the plants are allowed to break down in place are considered messy and unkempt.  What if we changed our perception of what the garden is meant to be?If our gardens were not a showcase of status, or a response to some old fashioned construct of beauty, but instead were viewed as spaces for wildlife to thrive, we would soon see beauty in the decaying plants that nurture birds and insects.  We would see a grandeur in the tawny fading foliage that even as it declines is feeding countless organisms around it.

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