A Note From Rick | November Means it’s Time to Clean Up the Gardens

November 10, 2021
Bridge Gardens

Removing annuals, cutting back perennials and raking or blowing leaves generates lots and lots of biomass. At Bridge Gardens, we don’t remove any of this from the property and deal with all that material in a number of ways.

If it’s disease-free, not too woody or full of self-sowing seeds, it’s composted in bins, and layered with lots of fallen oak leaves.


Tomato, squash and cucumber vines, as well as pepper and eggplant stalks are deposited in perimeter beds along with shrub trimmings, fallen branches, and woody herbs like fennel and basil to begin a long, slow decay. We usually cover with a layer of leaves. In the woods west of the driveway, we leave the leaves where they fall and add more from nearby lawns and beds.

Many recommend not removing leaves, stalks and seed heads from lawns and gardens until spring, allowing them to replenish the soil as they decay and feed overwintering wildlife. We prefer to clean up thoroughly, not just because it looks neater and means less work in spring, but also because it deprives pests like voles and rabbits of winter cover and makes it easier for predators to find them.

A great way to dispose of leaves and small twigs on lawns is simply to mow over them and chop them up with a mulching mower. The pieces make their way down to the soil surface and feed the grass as they decay and are eaten by worms. Many chop up piles of leaves the same way or with a small chipper and then mulch beds and borders.


Composting vegetable vines with a peekaboo nasturtium

If you grow a lot of self-sowing plants as we do in the herb garden — herbs like fennel, epazote and shiso — a good way of preventing them from germinating en masse next spring is to deprive them of light and air with a layer of bark or leaf mulch.

Any compost you made during the summer, even if it’s not completely “cooked,” can be applied to vegetable garden beds now, along with amendments like biochar, greensand and bone meal. Rain, snow, freezing and thawing during winter help break them down and work them into the soil.

Many gardeners mulch vegetable beds with leaves or straw, or sow a winter cover crop to discourage erosion from wind and precipitation and to nourish next year’s crops. It’s a bit cold for many cover crops to germinate now, but grain rye is worth a try. Do not sow annual rye, because despite its name, it persists until spring and has to be dug out when you’re ready to plant.

Need tips on composting? Check out our videos here with Paul Wagner of Greener Pastures Organics where he shares information and tips to get you started.


Ripening blackberries still on the vine

This year’s late transition to colder temperatures means there’s still much to see in the gardens, including colorful leaves and fruits, as well as the last blooms of the season. Evergreens become standouts in the landscape now, as leaves of nearby deciduous trees and shrubs color and fall to the ground.

The sculptures of Uncommon Ground IV, in place through next summer, take on a different character with the lowering sun and golden afternoon light. We still have many visitors every day, and I hope you’ll join them soon to see what’s happening here at Bridge Gardens.

~~ Rick


A peek at Shelter by sculptor Gino Miles

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