Well right now we are looking at our yards and thinking about how messy they look, from leaves everywhere to dead stems in the gardens. But turn your thinking around for a moment to the idea that this mess is vital to many of the creatures we love, such as songbirds, and those we don’t see but keep our yard healthy and resilient. It’s much better to leave fallen leaves, branches, stems, and seedheads where they are rather than blowing, shredding, or raking them away. That organic matter is essential forage and cover for butterflies, moths, bees, salamanders, birds, and other creatures. It also insulates plant roots through the cold winter months and then decomposes to build up living soil that’s so important to a healthy ecosystem.
If you want to follow these healthy practices but also have your yard looking neat and cared for, you can do some of the things that have worked for me. My yard is a very visible place in a neighborhood, so I have been learning ways to strike a balance between leaving all of these valuable materials in place and looking neat. For my pollinator garden, I leave tall meadow plants standing, but rake away leaves from the edges where I have lower plants and mulch. I also rake the grass turf area. I keep these raked leaves on site in a compost area in back. Many of these plants such as coneflowers, sunflowers and asters look lovely standing in winter with frost and snow on them. For some stems that don’t stand up as well, I trim them and leave them in place in visible areas. Next spring, I will add mulch right over the top of this rich organic layer in areas I want to look neat.
Learn more about why it’s important to leave your yard “cleanup” until spring in this article from the Ecological Landscape Alliance.