Spring in Western New York is fleeting, maybe just a little bit more than a state of mind. The actual gardening season from early summer to mid-fall is more substantial, but still short enough. The other day, our Facebook gardening group got this private message: “Am I evil for clearing away leaf litter and dead branches before temps get reliably to 50 degrees? Some advice says consistently 50 during the day and some say overnight temps of 50. Gardening season is short enough as it is, and following this rule seems excessive.”
“Am I evil?” EVIL? No, she is not evil—I know her personally and she’s a kind, intelligent person. Her lovely garden is filled with native plants, as well as others, and, like me, she does no fall cleanup, with seedheads left up for whomever may want to avail themselves. But the 50 degree rule is a bit harsh for our zone. A lot of the time, you can’t even count on that in June—not at night, anyway—and by then, you really should have had the garden in shape, if you care about it at all. Nongardeners would have the advantage here, I suppose, but I find that nongardeners tend to value neatness more and would neither know nor care about any 50 degree rule.
These edicts tend to show up as memes on social media and they are having an effect. I think this is, overall, a good thing. We should be sensitive to the needs of pollinators, and many are unaware of the lifecycles of the insects who share their gardens. But compromise is necessary. I have many reasons for keeping a garden, but one of my main sources of joy is the emergence of perennials and bulbs, like the species tulips shown above and at top—my only color in a front area that is all shade in the summer—in the early season. I can’t see them if they’re buried under leaf litter and other debris. It has to be cleared away at some point and, in my small urban space, there’s nowhere to hide it. It gets picked up for composting. I’ll do my best in other ways—no spraying obviously, the use of natives, and dense plantings that are left up through winter. Otherwise, at some point, there will be cleanup, and it will be earlier than some creatures may prefer. I had to laugh when I saw this comment in our group: “Any insects still trying to snooze in my beds just got woken up like a teenager on Monday morning!”
Rise and shine.