Archived Story

Messy gardens are healthy

Published 4:02am Monday, November 4, 2013 Updated 6:06am Monday, November 4, 2013

This time of year new gardeners get the “Martha syndrome.” They pull out all their annuals, cut down all the perennials, and rake the whole garden.

They want their gardens to look neat in the winter.  On the other hand, experienced gardeners know a messy garden will be a healthy garden next spring.

Bunkey learned that the hard way when five of the six mums, two of three roses and about one-fourth of his other perennials froze out one “open” winter.

This is Bunkey’s new fall regime.  After the first hard frost, pull out any diseased plants and bag or burn them.

Cut iris down to about 4 to 6 inches and bag or burn the leaves.

Pick up leaves and mulch the flower garden  with about a foot of  them.

Put a fence of hardware cloth around the roses as tall as the plants are and half again as wide and fill it with dry leaves or straw.

Bare soil left for plants to re-seed needs extra mulch, as there should have been a light cover on the rest of the garden that had been removed.

The tall stalks of flowers left in the flowerbed will stop the mulch from blowing away.

It will also help hold the snow, if we get any.  Snow is not only a good insulation, it will keep tulips and daffodils from popping up too early and add moisture to the bed when it melts.

If you have a flowerbed, next to the house or other south facing foundation that has spring bulbs planted in it, make sure that area gets an extra heavy mulch.

Those bulbs get the reflected heat from the foundation, and in case of a house, heat leaking through it.

They think it’s spring and pop up too soon, getting their noses frozen off.

The vegetable garden, is an entirely different story.  All vines must be removed including tomatoes.

They can’t be mulched by the tiller. Anyone who has attempted to unwind a vine from the tiller tines will attest to that.

You can leave any leafy plants as they till in easily. If the lettuce and radishes have gone to seed, leaving them will result in very early crops, not in nice neat rows however.

While corn stalks do hold snow and any leaves that may have blown in, they are a bear to pull up in the spring.

If you can’t pull them up now, cut them off. The roots will pop up during tilling, a reminder of where you planted corn this year if you don’t keep a garden map.

An easy way to remember never to plant the same plant in the same place every year is to move each row over one row each spring.

Leaving a garden messy will save Bunkey enough time to enjoy a football game.

It is also easier on his aging frame, not having to pull out all those volunteer asters, cleome, and zinnias. He also gets to watch the winter birds feast on all the seed-heads left standing.

Messy gardens, in the spring, have all sorts of surprise plants popping up, thus saving money for seeds and filling in bare spots with no effort on the gardener’s part.

Bunkey is all for saving effort and Petunia likes the money saving part.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.

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