Don’t be so quick to clean up

A lot of magic happens in the “dead” parts of a garden. Flowers gone to seed feed birds. Dead stalks support important insect life–from spiders to pollinators. Fallen leaves and sticks give habitat to lizards and toads and mushrooms and myriads of invisible creatures.

Yet dead growth is not attractive to the human eye, and around about this time of year we’re all itching to make a clean sweep of all that brown stuff. I know I am, but this morning I was grateful that I’ve procrastinated thus far, because I saw a flock of tiny little gnat catchers (adorable!) feasting on whatever tiny bugs live on the scraggy stand of fennel standing in our front yard, and a couple of hours later I found a flock of house finches enjoying the withered heads of our long, long dead sunflowers. I almost cut those stalks down yesterday, and am so glad I didn’t.

It’s a balancing act. If your garden is in your front yard you pretty much have to be tidy to appease the neighbors. If you have a small back yard, like we do, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to clear the decks, because everything is right in your face. Blessed are those with big yards, because they might have the option to keep the areas closer to the house tidy while allowing the “back 40” to go to seed.

I guess all you can do is keep the little creatures in mind and put off the clean up as long as you can. Leave dead leaves and sticks on the ground year round. Designate small corners as wilderness. The more you support all levels of life in your garden, the more your garden will thrive.

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  1. For this very reason I have been leaving my lettuce seed heads (which are looking so awful ! ) Everytime I think they’re done, I see these beautiful gold finches i NEVER see in L.A. otherwise eating from them. I’m considering maybe just gathering them all up to a corner of the yard and not quite composting them yet.. I have one of those front yard gardens, and I would not be surprised if I came home to it turned back into a lawn what with my mom’s threats.. 😛

  2. Birds love my yard because all the seed heads of everything is rarely cleaned up. And, I don’t have a garden. Cardinal love it here. I don’t know what they eat from my yard, but they are abundant. I never see many small birds on one side of my house. I like to keep birds happy.

  3. My non-tidy up policy feeds the birds, protects the sandy soil from heavy winter rain and annoys my next door neighbour. I’m good! Loretta

  4. I’ve been watching squirrels leap from sunflower to sunflower collecting seed. They are actually quite good at dispersing seed: they tend to not get every seed and even better, they bury the seed heads for later but sometimes abandon/forget and up come tons of new sunflowers

  5. I let a few things flower and seed this year. The parsley flowers were a huge hit with the bees. One of the unexpected bonuses of not clearing last year’s cabbage stalks is that they sprouted again in spring and have spent the entire summer growing tasty green shoots, which have provided many a meal. I am going to do this deliberately with some of this year’s brassicas.

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