Don't worry about not cleaning up your garden

If the early arrival of cold and snow has kept you from cleaning up your garden, Calgary Eyeopener gardening guru Kath Smyth has some good news.

'I always tell people at this time of year, don’t clear cut, be careful of the plants you’ve got'

Leaving plant material in your garden will help it over the winter months, says gardening guru Kath Smyth. (Submitted by Heidi Riley )

If the early arrival of cold and snow has kept you from cleaning up your garden, Calgary Eyeopener gardening guru Kath Smyth — a member of the Calgary Horticultural Society — has some good news.

You don't have to.

There's a growing movement in gardening circles that says gardeners should put down the rakes and shovels come fall and stop clearing away leaves and plants for the winter season.

Smyth spoke with host David Gray to explain further.

Q: Am I just being lazy?

No, it's actually a good way to approach this because what we're looking at is we'll be disturbing all the wildlife underneath and if we lift too many things off the ground or we prune them back too hard, we run the risk of frost damage into the branches of some of your shrubs and you run the risk of drying the soil out too much if you clear cut.

Q: So I can say I'm gardening by not gardening?

Absolutely. A lot of the bees that do pollinating don't go away in the wintertime, in fact they just hibernate, so what we do when we clean it all out is we end up taking away their hiding places because there's the solitary bees and all the small pollinators and they go into the undergrowth and live in the branches and around the tree trunks so disturbing it with a rake and raking it all up, you're essentially eliminating their habitat, same thing with the ladybugs.

It's not too late to plant scilla in Calgary says Eyeopener gardening guru Kath Smyth. (Glenn Stevenson)

Q: Imagine your average Calgary home, where maybe you've got a little bit of lawn, probably a hedge somewhere, a little garden patch, what should you be doing?

I do clean up my leaves a bit out of the middle of the lawn because I don't want to have any kind of disease happen there. I'll take the leaf blower and blow all the leaves into the hedge, give the hedge the advantage of having extra moisture and giving a habitat to all my ladybugs that live by the millions in my yard apparently.

Q: When the snow comes, do you shovel it into the hedge?

I do what I call snow ranching. That's where you gather your snow and put it around the trees that are really important. Not right up against the trunk, just shovel it up, so if for instance, we do get a chinook and it starts to melt, it melts down and gives good moisture to the trees and shrubs and perennial gardens.

Q: Over the last few weeks I've noticed all these bulbs for sale, is it too late, did I miss my chance to put tulips in?

You know how you have your hand trowel and it's got a long wooden handle? If you've already got your soil a little bit cleaned up and you've got areas where you want to put them, you just take the end of the trowel and put it into soil, it's like drilling with that. If you're planting tulips for instance, go the entire length of the trowel and just drop the bulb in, remember pointed side up, because they grow pointed side up, the roots are on the bottom. It's not too late to plant garlic, and there's some beautiful small bulbs available, puschkinia and scilla, all sorts of things. 

Heuchera shouldn't be cut back before winter, says Kath Smyth. (Kath Smyth)

Q: Any other tips as we head into winter?

I always tell people at this time of year, don't clear cut, be careful of the plants you've got in your garden. Know what's an evergreen because so many people cut back plants that are evergreen. Bergenia, your elephant ears, they shouldn't be cut back. If you're a big fan of huecheras, don't cut them back, they're evergreen. The leaves stay there, they may look a little brown, a little mushy, but they're going to come right back into their colour and fill right in.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener