Tidying up is a balancing act between aesthetics and habitat. The first step in creating this balance ia allowing plants to re-seed throughout the bed. This creates a living tapestry and eliminates the need to mulch around every perennial.
The second step: give up control. The plants will tell you where they want to be. Say you pick a perfect spot for an aster in your garden. But, about a few feet to the left, there are micro-differences in the soil that create an even better spot. The seed will fall, germinate, and thrive in the best spot for the plant. The original plant may remain, or it may languish. No worries: they have it under control.
Each season plants will shift in response to the weather and soil. Follow their lead, tidy up after them as you need, fill gaps with new plants, and sit back and enjoy the show.
Here are 7 things you can do to help make this happen:
- Learn what the native seedlings look like so you don’t unwittingly weed them out.
- Leave dried seed heads on the plants during fall and winter. The birds will eat them, and the seed will disperse and replenish your garden.
- Let leaf litter lay. It enriches the soil, provides habitat for overwintering insects, and encourages beneficial fungi and mycorrhiza. Let at least some dormant perennials stems remain upright: the hollow stems provide insect habitat.
- Trim back perennials and gently rake out excess leaf litter in spring. If you see delicate seedlings popping their heads up, consider returning the blanket to these tender seedlings as they gradually end their long winter nap.
- Don’t use a pre-emergent herbicide (such as Preen) to keep weeds at bay – it will keep your native plants from spreading by seed.
- Pull weeds as soon as you recognize them. If you’re not sure, let it grow. It will make itself clear in time. Once it blooms, you’ll know. Yank weeds before they set seed.