Eco Tip: With Garden Cleanup, Less Is More

Marsha Low, Weavers Way Environment Committee

Gardening is a lot of work. But it turns out that many of the things people do are unnecessary and even detrimental to plants and wildlife in their landscapes. That’s why what I call “natural” gardening (some may call it “lazy”) can end up saving you lots of time and may also help endangered pollinators and other wildlife.

In my Eco Tip last month, I wrote about allowing your herbs to flower, thus attracting and helping bees and other pollinators thrive. For annual herbs, the next step for the natural gardener is to allow them to go to seed. Once that happens, the seeds drop, root themselves, and new plants start to grow. 

This is the approach I take with cilantro. Because it likes cool weather, it’s best to plant it in spring. Any plants that are not harvested then grow to about 2 feet high and develop profuse small white flowers. Once the seeds mature, they drop and reseed new plants, right in time for the cooler weather of late summer and fall. So there’s no need to replant — it’s done for you!

Another dreaded task for the gardener is the fall cleanup. Leaves are raked from lawns and out of beds (or blown by leaf blowers, which are major polluters – see the Eco Tip in the June 2019 issue), bagged or heaped in piles, and left at the curb for collection, while dead flowers and seed heads are pruned and removed. But it turns out that the critters in our gardens need the organic matter (leaves and other garden debris) to overwinter, and the seed heads of dried flower heads provide food for birds. 

The leaves in our garden beds also provide a natural mulch, a protective blanket in winter, and food for your soil as the plant material decomposes. Leaves on your lawn can be pulverized and left there as a natural fertilizer if you have a mulching mower. Alternatively, they can be passed over a few times with an ordinary mower, then placed in the compost or bagged to be used on the pile in summer, when brown matter is in short supply. 

So save time and work. You’ll see your garden and the wildlife that visit it thrive with the “natural” approach!