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Cleaning Up the Garden for Good

April 22 is Earth Day! Have you thought about what you could do to help Mother Earth? If you love gardening or have an influence on the garden where you live, there is something you can do that takes little effort but yields important results.

Blog by Karen Martens, OPA

Each spring, I eagerly await each day to see what changes happen in my garden. A few nice days and I’m tempted to begin to clean up the plants I left standing through the winter to provide cover and food for wildlife in our yard. When I first began gardening, the norm was to clean up the garden before winter and then things would be all tidy come spring. No more! Fortunately, increasing numbers of people recognize the benefits of “messy” gardens, or as I like to call them, “living gardens”. My husband and I maintain our property for all God’s creatures that are living with us.

We love to see the goldfinch or cardinals eating seeds from plants left standing over winter. Sometimes I spot a sleepy queen bumble bee in the spring after she comes out of hibernation in the ground. Among the living creatures that need our support more than ever, are insects, which have drastically decreased in number. This is alarming because insects are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem and essential for the majority of the food we eat.

We do not begin to clean up our garden until temperatures have been above 50 degrees for 7 days. We know that there could be overwintering pupa, insect eggs, larva and hibernating insects still present last season’s leaf litter and dried standing plant material. The leaf litter we leave on the flower beds also provides protection during late winter frosts as well as food and nesting material for turtles, toads, birds, mammals and invertebrates.

Once it is warm enough, I cut back the stalks from last year’s plants. Those that are hollow, I cut to about 18 inches to provide a nesting place for native bees. Most stalks I break up and simply drop… “chop and drop” is my practice. Old leaves and last year’s plant material is hidden by this year’s plant growth. This plant material and leaf litter breaks down during the growing season to enrich the soil.

Following these simple practices is a win-win. Less work for us and more benefit to the environment. This is one way each of us can honor Earth Day and do our part in saving this beautiful Earth we have been gifted with.

7 thoughts on “Cleaning Up the Garden for Good

  1. I know! The longer I’ve done this, the more I’ve continued to learn. Thank you for your response.

  2. Between our messy gardens and No Mow May, we see so many pollinators which in turn feed so many birds. It’s a great cycle to witness and so cool to see what God has established!

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