Preparing our gardens for winter

Our gardens play an important role in supporting wildlife and what we do in them every autumn can either enhance or inhibit that role.

Many native bees, ladybugs, butterflies and beneficial insects require a bit of bark or leaf litter to hunker down and survive the winter. These creatures will also attract birds during the winter and in spring. Birds are quite good at gleaning insects off of dead plant stems and branches, and out of leaf litter.  Our feathered friends will also appreciate feasting on any seeds and berries they can collect from intact perennial, annual, and shrub stems. 

Our yards can become havens for creatures, large and small, depending on what we plant in them and how we tend to our cultivated spaces.  

Let nature do the work. 

Leave fallen leaves especially of native trees such as maples, oaks, cherry and Virginia creeper which will enrich the soil as they decompose, helping support a living network of micro-organisms.

  • TIP – Mulch your leaves into the garden beds or throughout the lawn with your mower. Do Not leave them in piles or layers on your lawn as they may mat and inhibit early spring growth or cause dieback due to disease.

Leave dried flowers and grass stalks as natural bird feeders that add visual interest to your winter garden and create habitat for beneficial insects and critters.

Mulch or leave a thick layer of leaves and twigs to create an insulating blanket that protects the roots of perennials.

  • TIP – Don’t be tempted to add other organic matter such as grass clippings, prunings or compost – it will drastically decrease the quality of this cozy habitat.

Notable Exceptions to the rule 

Roses – to deter powdery mildew, blackspot, and some other fungal diseases, destroy all leaf litter from roses rather than composting or mulching it. Read More

Fruit Trees – spore-born diseases such as apple scab can survive and spread in leaf litter. Read More

More resources about garden cleanup. Allow nature to thrive:

Savvy Gardening – Six Reasons to Not Clean up the Garden this fall

The Suburban – Seven good reasons not to clean up the garden

Fall Cleanup advice from Garden Fundamentals