Heirloom Expert: Putting the Garden to Bed

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Photo by Danie Nel Photography
Leave perennials standing over winter to provide cover for beneficial and native insects.

Should I cut down all my perennials at the end of the season, and what other tips do you have for putting the garden to bed? — Al from Virginia

My radio partner Jessica Walliser, author of Attracting Beneficial Bugs to the Garden, has taught me it’s important to leave those perennials up as a place for beneficials and other native insects to overwinter.

We garden differently; she always used to make her perennial garden neat and tidy for the winter until discovering the research showing it was better to leave it alone.

I was always too lazy to cut mine back and it ends up I was doing the right thing all those years. Dumb luck can sometimes be the best thing for any gardener. I like to call that kind of luck a beautiful mistake, and my garden is filled with them.

When I put the garden to bed, I pull all annuals and tender vegetable plants sending them to the compost pile. Leaving that foliage in the garden is a place for pests and diseases to overwinter. Beds are covered in organic matter like compost or well-aged animal manure and then mulched with straw in the vegetable garden or bark mulch in the ornamental garden.

Since I’m crazy for growing things year round, many beds hold cold weather crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, carrots, tatsoi, corn mache and more. They are all left in the garden under protection like a floating row cover or clear plastic.

There’s no reason to quit gardening at the first heavy frost; keep planting by choosing the right crops.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.