There are two reasons to do some garden clean up now: because the remnants are unattractive or to remove debris so that insects and diseases won’t have a place to hide over winter. But looking around our own garden I can think of more reasons to allow some of the foliage and stems to remain, at least for the time being.
Those that are still green should be left alone. As long as there is active chlorophyll the plant is still producing energy that is going to root growth or bud development or being stored for the next growing season.
Some plants add winter interest. The chocolate colored seed heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ or the golden haziness of Amsonia (Blue Star) can bring the garden alive even on cold winter days. Snow gathering on the taller plants adds a new dimension, too.
Wildlife can find food and shelter in the leftover garden. The purple coneflowers attract goldfinches early and later feed chickadees and nuthatches. Mourning doves make regular inspections of our garden year round.
Those seeds may give you new plants that you can use to fill in empty spots or trade with other gardeners. Next summer we’ll again be visited by hummingbirds that delight in the red Salvia coccinea, an annual that volunteers or reseeds itself every year on its own.
And finally, as a practical matter, if you plan to move or divide a plant in the spring, allow enough leaves and stems to remain to serve as a bookmark or reminder, locating and identifying the plant for you.
So don’t hurry. Leave some of the cleanup for latter. Your garden should be a fun place to visit or to view any season of the year.
By Glenn Palmer