Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall Clean Up

 Frost melts into tiny water droplets on my Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'

I hope you have been enjoying the same wonderful weather we have been blessed with here this fall. There has been only a few really cold nights, with a light morning frost that quickly melts in the sunshine. 

Yesterday was glorious. I was out in the yard, without so much as a sweater, beginning the fall clean up of the garden. 

We have several mature trees in the yard, the oldest of which is a Black Walnut, that towers some three stories over the garden. It produces a prodigious number of walnuts, many as big as medium sized apples. These lime green, rock hard orbs can rain down with from the sky with such force, it can damage the garden fence or snap the rungs of my wooden arbor in two. 

The yard, littered with the hundreds of these round walnuts, becomes a roller rink that can send you sailing.

Burgundy Mum from the front garden

Black walnuts are supposedly a delicacy, however I have yet to figure out how to crack them open. Their impenetrable outer shell defies me!  

Picking up the walnuts is a backbreaking enterprise. First, I have to rake them into piles and then I scoop them up into an old metal dustpan. If I neglect to get the job done, the walnuts soften and turn in to papery black balls, that ooze a liquid as dark and thick as crude oil.

The water fountain in the back garden

What are your thoughts on fall clean up in the garden? Do you rake your beds clear?

In the past, I always put fall leaves into my compost pile. Then I started wondering, why I was doing this? When leaves fall in a forest, no one is there to "clean up". 

So, for the last few years I have been experimenting. 

It all started with the woodland bed, under our large maple. I stopped raking away the yellow maple leaves when they fell. 

During our harsh Canadian winters, I think that fall leaves make a great blanket that protects the plants that rest warm and cozy underneath them.

Pokeweed with frost crystals

I did not rake the maple leaves away in the spring either. 

Initially, I was worried that the new growth might rot under the leaves or be consumed by insects, who would not distinguish between the decomposing leaves and the new growth. 

But no, the new spring growth emerged from the leaf covered beds just fine. 

Then last year, when I cut down the the peonies in my front garden, I laid the spent plant's leaves right back on the bed. In June, the peonies thanked me with a profusion of blooms.


I don't know if these fall clean up experiments will backfire on me at some point, but so far so good!

Many of my roses still carry on and a few even have blooms, including this white ground cover rose that I purchased on sale at the local grocery store.


  1. What a back breaking job but oh my your garden still seems to have many beautiful flowers.

  2. Such an interesting topic - I'm definitely of the leaves as blanket school, but have had gardening friends claim that the leaves led rodents to set up shop in the garden. I just don't like the look of an overly tidy garden, and leave up as much as possible...

  3. We have walnuts from a neighbors tree that falls all over our yard too! It is back breaking to pick them all up!!

  4. Beautiful photos, as usual! I'm a big believer in leaving the leaves where they fall. When we first moved into our house 7 yrs ago I collected leaves from my friends in other neighborhoods that had mature trees so I could mulch my garden with them. When I lived near the Canadian border I would mow the leaves that fell on the lawn and then dump them, evenly cut and ready to decompose, into the garden. My gardens have always thanked me with bounitful blooms! Yours will, too!! :0)

  5. Jennifer, I think it is good to clean up even though it is much more work than springtime gardening. We have also had some great weather which has put me into a planting mode. I know sooner or later we will get it!


  6. I've also started my fall cleanup. It's a very sorrowful task. Today I trimmed back my butterfly bushes and dug up my geraniums to hang in the basement for the winter. What few flowers that are still blooming are covered in a blanket of maple leaves.

  7. There was a giant Walnut Tree at the bottom of the playground at my elementary school. Beautiful tree but did those walnuts ever stain! I don't rake leaves but let them fall where they may.

    I love the quality of the light in your photos. They're gorgeous.

  8. I'm visiting your blog, is marvellous, MERAVIGLIOSO! what a beautiful nature you have up there in Ontario:) have a nice week

  9. Leaves off the lawn - overseedy perennials cut back somewhat leaving stuff for the birds. Used to cut back hosta, but found their slimy leaves rake out easily in the spring & so I just skip that step. We haven't had frost yet - but any day now! Lovely fall photos. B.

  10. I never bother raking leaves unless it's to move them somewhere where I'd like some added mulch. But if I had walnuts I think I'd be cleaning them up. We have apples and spend a good amount of time picking them off the ground and piling them to compost elsewhere, otherwise they turn into a goopy slippy mess.

  11. We have 3 black walnuts and they are quite beautiful. I find that there is a cycle from smaller crops to large ones about every 5 years. I used to collect them all to put out with the garden waste but now I rake them into a mound and let the squirrels eat them through the winter.
    As for the leaves, I rake up by the street (except on one native plant bed) and the rest stay where they are. By mid June I find they have disappeared.

  12. Thanks everyone for sharing your fall cleanup methods.I will benefit greatly from the wealth of your experiences!


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