Fall is my favorite time of year. A time to hopefully rest and reset from the summer garden chores. But one chore left undone is raking and bagging fallen leaves. Are you a leaf raker, bagger and tosser? Don’t do that! Resist the urge to clear out and clean up all dead plant debris including leaves from your yards and gardens. I know, it’s going to look messy, right? But if you really want a sustainable, healthy landscape and garden, you need to let nature take its course. By leaving dead debris and fallen leaves in your garden beds and tree wells, you are providing habitat for beneficial insects, fungi and other microbes in the soil. All of this lovely organic material will insulate the roots of your plants from the winter cold and hold in the soil moisture. At my house, we rake up our leaves and let the kiddo jump and play in them. Then after they have broken up a bit, I use the leaves to mulch my trees wells, vegetable and flower beds. Composted leaves, also known as leaf mold, is what you’ll end up with after a few months. Leaf mold is transformative for hard and compacted garden soil. This is such a great, free resource. Even if you don’t break them up in some way, please spread leaves about your yard and garden beds anyway. A spritz with the hose will help hold them in place. 

Don’t toss out your leaves or other beneficial garden debris. 

Do dispose or burn any dead debris or leaves If you’ve had a known pathogen in those plants.

Don’t chop down or pull every dead plant after the first killing frost. Leave those that have dried seed heads as a food source for birds or serve as habitat or visual winter interest. If you must cut them back, lay them on the ground around the bases of trees or shrubs as mulch and habitat.

Do collect and store dried seeds to replant in spring.

Do get a head start on your spring garden. Weed your future garden beds as much as you can, add compost and manures, top off with leaves or other mulch at a depth of 4 to 6 inches, then let the mulch and soil amendments settle over the winter. You will be glad to not have to work as hard digging very hard and dry soil come spring.

Do bring in your frost sensitive tender plants and try them as a houseplant in a sunny windowsill. Experiment with any annual. You never know what you can get to survive and actually thrive indoors. I am trying coleus as a houseplant this winter.

What to plant now:

Edibles: Lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, mustards, cilantro, parsley, garlic, onions (by seed). Growing under some type of light penetrating crop cover or cold frame will help increase yields as night temperatures begin to drop below freezing.

In your landscape: spring blooming bulbs, perennial plants or shrubs, potted trees or shrubs. Broadcast wildflower seeds that flower in spring or summer. The seeds will sprout during fall and overwinter (in your lovely leaf covered, insulated flower bed) and begin rapidly growing in spring. 

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