Connecticut Garden Journal: A new approach to fall garden clean up
Many gardeners are starting to think about fall garden cleanup. But there are some new ideas about cleaning the flower and vegetable gardens in the fall. To garden more ecologically friendly, we're learning what not to do come Autumn.
Many pollinators and beneficial insects are getting ready for winter in the flower garden. They will tunnel into hollow stemmed flowers, such as zinnias and echinacea, tuck under fallen leaves, and burrow next to clumping plants. The traditional knowledge was to cut back and clean up these annual and perennial flower gardens to remove weeds and diseased leaves. Now, the thinking is different. It's recommended to leave the plant debris until spring. After a series of 50F days in spring, then clean up after the insects have moved on. If you must do some cleanup, cut back plants no shorter than 15 inches to not disturb the overwintering insects. If you have lots of deciduous leaves on your beds, then yes, remove some, but leave a thin layer for the insects. Leaving plant debris and leaves also helps feed plants in spring and prevent weeds from growing.
If your plants are not diseased or insect-infested in the veggie garden, cut back the foliage into small pieces to the ground with a manual hedge trimmer. This chop-and-drop method leaves organic materials on the soil, protecting the microbes in winter and preventing erosion. In beds with diseased plants, cut those off at the soil line and remove them. Then, add a layer of chopped leaves, hay, or straw to protect the soil.