raking leaves

  - by Grey County Master Gardeners

Here we are and it’s fall! A time when gardeners turn to ‘putting the garden to bed for the winter” and doing a general clean-up. While you may think a tidy garden is a healthy garden, here are some suggestions about putting your garden to bed so that it stays ‘alive’ and a food source for birds and insects over the winter months.

While you might traditionally start cutting back everything including vegetables, annuals and trimming perennials back to make your gardens look tidy, this is not good for the various wildlife species that make your garden home and a source of food. Seed-eating birds such as chickadees, jays and finches will love you for leaving perennial seed heads for them to eat. While you should remove any diseased growth, think twice about cutting back all of your bird-feeding perennials! We’ve all seen birds in the winter looking for food, so leave them some as a natural food source. Fruit trees with old fruit is also a great treat for our wintering birds.

Speaking of birds, beneficial garden insects also benefit from a thoughtful and organic approach to fall garden attention. By leaving piles of wood, small logs and by not disturbing the garden any more than is necessary, beneficial insects find home for the winter, providing a food source for birds over the winter and into the following spring. Beneficial insects hibernate and lays eggs so leave them some spots in grasses and in perennials to over-winter. You can also take a pile of plants, grasses, sticks and compost and rather than throwing these out, set up a small pile or two and provide a home for these beneficial insects to over-winter (get the kids involved watching the ‘insect home!”)

Many homeowners love to rake up all their leaves, bag them up and take them away. If you do, make sure they go somewhere they can be composted. But, consider building a leaf compost, mulching them into your garden beds, or leaving them on your lawn to break down and add nutrients to your lawn, especially nitrogen. If the leaves are too wet to mow, add them to an existing compost to use as a soil amendment. You can always mow over them to help them breakdown. Or, use leaves as a natural mulch for any of your vegetable or flower gardens. Leaves are as good as bark mulches and may save you a trip to the composting site!

Let’s not forget our butterflies! Did you know that some butterflies stay over the winter and attach to dead plant stalks or live out winter in leaf piles, or even inside a tiny seed pod as a caterpillar, chrysalis or eggs? Who knew how alive your winter garden really is!

So, when you head out to ‘put your garden to bed’ keep in mind how alive your yard can be while we are settled in our warm homes with a cup of hot chocolate. Do you part to protect and preserve life for the birds, insects and butterflies by helping build a home for them for the winter. As well as knowing you’ve given them a winter home, your gardens can have a special, but different look in the winter with the dried plants and grass stalks (think ornamental grasses) giving you yet another season to love your gardens.

If this article had meaning for you, please pass it on. Look for other articles of interest on and consider registering (top right of the page - green link). You'll receive no more than one email a week with articles you might have missed from your community and other special content. Thank you. - editor



CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators