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Tidy or mulch?

Happy Boxing Day, all!

I'm confused as to whether or not I should clear up the dead leaves in my flowerbeds before winter (I know, I'm running a bit late...) or not. My  mum always said you should do so because otherwise the plants will get diseases, because the stuff we grow in gardens is not as hardy as plants that grow in the wild. However, I have gained the impression somewhere that leaving a layer of leaves should protect the plants from frost. And isn't mulching pretty much the same thing anyway?

The only 'problem' I've noticed from not having cleared up leaves in the past is that when I clear them up in the spring, the bulbs are taken by surprise and left with shoots above ground that aren't even green. I don't know if that matters or not.

I'd be interested to know if there is a 'right' answer, or if this is a matter of opinion!


  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,366

    I think it's down to preference and attitude and what you're growing Karen. The worms take in the leaves eventually. I don't remove them from my garden, I do remove them from grass. If I grew alpines  I would remove them from those

    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • Hi Karen,  I do pretty much the same as nut (happy Christmas nut, btw!)

    The only leaves I do remove are from beneath the roses as mine suffer badly from black spot and as spores from this disease overwinter on the dead rose leaves under the bushes, I try and remove every last one of those.

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,366

    Happy Christmas Bob. and Karen

    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • Hi everyone

    I'm glad Karen you asked this question as I was wondering the same myself. In the past I've always raked the leaves so the garden looks tidy! So this is the first yr I'm leaving them on the beds but like Nut keeping the grass leave free. So it will be interesting to see what happens in the spring.

  • bit of a mix for me... I cut back dead leaves and flowers - but if I had interesting looking seedheads like cardoons, echiums and rudbeckia I would probably leave them for the birds and other wildlife to enjoy and chop them down in spring. My dead or dying plants don't look quite as interesting and I prefer to tidy away dead leaves so that the new growth is unhindered in spring. I cleared the borders in September, ahead of leaf fall and spread a mulch of last years leaf mould. Then this year's leaves started to fall. I swept up most of the leaves to make leaf mould. Also any large, woody leaves like London Plane which just won't rot quickly - I put those out for the council. But I have left small, delicate leaves on the ground for the worms and they will all disappear by Spring when the bulbs etc are coming up.

    As with so many other things in gardening, it's as much a question of personal preference as anything else! No right or wrong way really - Mother Nature will always work around our whims!

  • Just to answer the OP, your bulb shoots will be fine even if they are white when first exposed - they soon green up in the presence of light and bulbs are very hardy so won't come to any harm. I'm in the "clear from grass, leave alone in the borders" camp, but really it's up to you.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,366

    We all want something different from our gardens. I want to share mine with the birds and the bees,(and the rest), so leave things to help them over winter. I have little interest in latest cultivars and exotics which may not cope with this. 

    I think there's room for all styles. It would be very boring visiting other gardens if they were all the same as my own.


    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • Thank you to you all for your replies, and sorry I didn't spot them sooner (auto notification didn't work). I'm glad to see there isn't a clear wrong answer! Yes, I had gathered that it's necessary to rake grass because that dies without light.

    I must say I've seen magazine articles with pictures of beautiful frost- or snow-covered gardens where the dead flower heads are a feature - but I never go out to admire my garden if it's that cold! In any case it's very small, not somewhere I can walk around (and I don't have anywhere to put a compost heap to make my own mulch).

    Bob, thanks for the reminder about rose leaves - yes, I have a problem with black spot too, so I need to be careful there.

    Landgirl, thanks for the reassurance about my bulbs!


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