A heavy frost and cooler weather are telltale signs that the garden season will soon be over for another year. That doesn’t mean that everything should be cleaned out of the garden as wild creatures continue to use the garden for food and protection throughout the cold months.
Fruit and berries that are left in the garden might need cleaned up in spring or they might feed hungry birds, squirrels and or other creatures.
The same can be said about seed pods. While it is wise to remove all weed seeds as well as plants that self-seed profusely not all seeds need be removed. Seed pods are attractive and provide food for birds and rodents.
Perennial foliage can be left intact or cut back. Leaving the foliage intact will catch snow and provide some insulation for roots as well as shelter for insects, rodents and food for hooved animals.
If the thought of providing a habitat to overwinter insects is alarming, remember that there are beneficial ones as well as harmful ones. Find out where the insects that harmed the garden this summer and eliminate their overwintering spots. If aphids were a problem, wash down stems and trunks with a powerful hose. This will dislodge many of the eggs leaving them exposed to the elements.
On the other hand, cutting back all the perennial foliage, removing all the leaves from around the bases of trees, removes Lady Beetle (Lady Bug) habitat. These insects group together and overwinter in mass.
Adding a small a small stack of logs or brush in the yard provides habitat for cocoons that will eventually turn into moths or butterflies.
The mention of rodents bring to mind mice and voles which can do extensive damage to the garden. If they have done damage in the past, it might be best to remove their shelter and food supplies. This is as easy as removing all foliage around new plantings and fruit trees.
Deer and moose can be interesting to watch, but they can also be very destructive in a small yard. It is up to the homeowner to leave foliage for them to eat or to set up deterrents and keep them out of the yard.
There are advantages to cutting back the foliage. It leaves the area smooth and clean looking. In the spring, there will be less tidying up to be done. A bed without foliage easy to top dress evenly with compost.
Removing and disposing of foliage in any garden, shrub, perennial or vegetable, that was diseased or infected with insects can minimize the spread next season if the insects or diseases overwinter in the plants foliage.
Usually vegetable gardens are cleaned of most or all foliage in the fall. Turning of the soil late in the season will disturb any pests or eggs that are using it for overwintering.
Small ponds are usually drained but large ones should be left as is. The bottom of the pond that does not freeze solid provides protection for numerous insects and reptiles. Allow water plants to die back naturally as cutting back water plants in the fall allows water to enter the stems and rot the roots.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to put the garden to bed for the winter. It should be a personal choice made by understanding the consequences of completed or left until spring.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org