By now the garden has gone out in a blaze of glory. Most of what’s left from the growing season is the debris of senescence. We have some choices what to do with it.
Traditionally, gardens are “put to bed” by cutting down all stems and raking leaves to the curb. Tidiness is overrated. Instead, leave plenty of healthy stems and seed heads standing to provide winter interest as well as habitat and sustenance for overwintering wildlife—mainly insects and birds. (But remove all stems and foliage damaged by fungal infections, and do not compost it.)
Leave the leaves. Mow fallen leaves into the lawn, and rake (shredded) leaves back into the beds as insulating mulch, which also protects overwintering insects such as bumblebees and some butterfly species.
Create new garden beds using the lasagna method. Place a layer of wet newspaper or cardboard over the lawn, then top it with alternating layers of leaves and unfinished green compost to a height of 1 to 2 feet. By spring this will be usable land for planting.
Finish planting spring/summer bulbs. If you’re a procrastinator, you can plant tulips (Tulipa spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8) as late as January as long as the ground is still workable.
Kristin Green is author of Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-sow, and Overwinter. She gardens in Bristol, Rhode Island.
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