Leave the leaves

At the start of each New Year , I tend to get excited for the coming seasons. I always have plans for the garden for the year ahead. I make lists of plants that need to be divided, transplanted or moved ; I enjoy dreaming of new specimens to plant; and I assess what has worked in my garden over the last year – and also what didn’t , or I could say, what work I didn’t accomplish!

garden rake

I believe that gardeners are deep down very optimistic. We have to be. We are always planning for the future. I am constantly dreaming and visualizing how everything will look and anticipating the coming blooms and textures – will that grass work with that echinacea? or will it block it…I hope the cherry tree flowers as much this season as last… will I be able to weed out all that buttercup this spring? – Yes, yes and yes. Well – on the last one , I hope so.

There tend to be a lot of lists in January for the “hot trends for your garden” for the coming year. These lists can be fun to read and sometimes helpful for ideas. But this year I feel that instead of a list of the ‘hot new things’ to get for your garden , I want to focus on the “hot new best practices” for your garden. When I say , practices , I mean how we garden – how we deal with the day-to-day and seasonal tasks in our gardens. What better way to start the New Year , then in deciding on improving our management strategies for our gardens.


Sustainable Landscaping. What is that? I read about it a lot in gardening books and magazines. It means to be able to maintain something at a certain level or rate. It means approaching our gardens with the idea that we can create beautiful gardens with less inputs than in the past. A sustainable landscaper uses less water, chooses organic methods of pest control, uses less chemical weed controls, and finds ways to create less waste and impacts on the surrounding environment. Although our gardens are man-made landscapes and are different from nature and natural ecosystems , they are still ecosystems. Our back yards , our little pieces of earth, are ecosystems that are part of the larger ecosystem of our regions. Here are some things our gardens offer :

  • wildlife habitat
  • oxygen production
  • carbon sequestration
  • erosion control
  • food (veggie gardens)
  • social benefits (beauty for ourselves and neighbours)


One key concept is to focus on the soil. Our soil is really the garden underground. It is a vital living system that depends on us to keep it healthy. Healthy soil = healthy plants. Our soil is full of life – from the tiny micro organisms and bacteria to the earthworms. One sustainable gardening practice is to leave some debris in the soil. The old “scorched earth” approach to gardening , of removing every leaf , twig, and dead part of a plant is not a sustainable approach to gardening. You are removing all the organic matter that the soil needs and will break down and turn into nutrients. This is a hard one to change but it is a great way to feed your soil and , in turn , your plants. Yes , it will look messy but it is also a way of mulching the soil. I do this mainly with grasses and perennials. As I cut back the plants in the spring or the fall , I simply chop up the debris with my clippers into smaller pieces, and I leave it with most leaf debris on the soil.

This doesn’t work for everything and can be a hard one for gardeners to embrace. I started with a few perennials and grasses , and each new season , I try to leave a few more leaves and chopped up debris right in the garden bed. When it comes to daylilies or hosta leaves , I cut those back and remove all debris to the compost pile. Also, with a diseased plant like a garden phlox with powdery mildew – you would want to remove that to the burn pile or compost pile.

Leave the leaves, feed your soil with your own garden debris, compost the rest and use less weed killers and pesticides. A sustainable garden ecosystem is healthier for us, our plants and the wildlife that calls it home.



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