Cleaning Up the Garden: Spring or Fall?

A question I am frequently asked is: when is the best time to clean up my garden? Spring or fall? I’ve done some research and the answer depends on which website you visit. There are advocates for both, so it really boils down to personal preference.

My preference: leave the garden alone in the fall. I do remove broken stems and cut back any splayed plants, but anything that is still upright, I leave. When frost or snow collects on the dried grasses, spent echinacea blossoms, and the seed pods of Baptisia Australis, it’s a beautiful sight on a bright winter day.

Another reason I leave the garden alone is the beneficial insects and pollinators like ladybugs, bees and some butterflies who need overwintering sites where they can stay sheltered until spring. Leaf litter can provide a protected winter habitat for these guys. And then there are the birds who stick around Chicago: cardinals, chickadees, finches, and juncos, who can feast on seeds and berries left on your plants and shrubs.

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