To Clean or Not to Clean Your Garden this Fall

The times of turning your fall garden into a tidy, clean-cut version of itself are gone. Cutting it all down and raking everything up doesn’t help your garden become a haven for plant life come spring.


Starting your spring garden off on the right foot requires accomplishing some goals in the fall. We know that plant life, insects, and birds all play a critical role in the life of an organic garden, so why start the entire process over every spring by clearing it all away in the fall?


Organic gardens are made to sustain life, which means the actions we take in the fall play a critical role in how well they grow.


If you have a habit of clearing too much growth away from your organic garden when the weather starts to cool, consider these five reasons not to clean up your garden.




Ever wonder what bees do in the winter? They look for protective places to stow away from the cold and predators during the winter. Most of the 3500-plus species in North America look for one of the following places to hide away:


  • A piece of peeling tree bark
  • The hollow stem of a bee balm plant
  • Ornamental grass
  • Burrow in the ground
  • Hide away as an egg or larvae


Organic gardeners know that bees are critical in maintaining a healthy garden. If we remove every last bulb we give bees one last place to stow away for the winter, plus we cut ourselves off at the knees. Consider giving the bees a much-needed winter habitat the next time you’re tempted to cut away everything from your garden.




Monarch butterflies travel south to Mexico for the winter but most other butterflies stay in Iowa. They seek shelter in dry, safe places until spring. If you go poking around, you’ll find butterflies in:


  • Rock fissures
  • Under tree bark
  • Leaf litter


Several species of butterfly can be found hanging from dead plant stems or tucked away into the soil. Take this into consideration when you cut away plants that could become hosts to butterflies during the winter months.




More than 400 different species of ladybug can be found across North America. Fun fact: did you know that most ladybugs aren’t black and red? Many of us feel the ladybug or the Asian beetle is a nuisance when we find it in our homes, under leaf piles, and nestled at the base of our garden plants.


However, ladybugs are notorious for eating unwanted pests. They consume dozens of soft-bodied pest insects every day, which means leaving your garden intact during the winter will give them the chance to clear out undesirable pests!




Birds are also helpful in eliminating unwanted pests from the garden. Insect-eating birds such as the following will consume thousands of caterpillars every garden season:


  • Chickadees
  • Wrens
  • Nuthatches
  • Pheobes
  • Bluebirds


Leaving your spent garden as it is will allow the birds in your neighborhood to eat the protein-rich insects so they can’t bother your plants.




One of the biggest benefits in skipping fall garden clean up is the beauty you’ll see. Snow-covered dried seed pods, berries dangling from bare branches, and goldfinches fluttering around your spent sunflowers make for some gorgeous moments. You may even be tempted to start up a photography hobby if you haven’t already. Enjoy the beauty of the winter by skipping your garden clean-up!

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