Last week we discussed the what and why of herbaceous fall cutbacks in an effort to tidy up the flower bed. This week, let us start a two part discussion on how Wellfield Botanic Gardens’ staff handle freshly cut herbaceous material specifically within the larger discussion of fall garden cleanup.
The first step is to move through the garden spotting any diseased plants, either removing the entire plant, if required, or removing all infected plant debris to the trash can (not the compost pile to reinfect your garden next year).
The second step we take here is to remove thicker stalked material such as hostas, oriental lilies and taller asters. Everyone has a different method for cutting plants down; here are a few options: rice knife, garden shears, or some other gas powered option. Either way I like to leave a bit of a stub so I can find perennials in their “off season”. Have you ever cut something to the ground and later, thinking like a squirrel, you forget you had a plant there and dug it up? Okay, it must just be me.
The third step is to shred the material up, using a small chipper in our case, and then spread the material back on the very same flower beds. Why chip it and then return it to the beds? Chipping up the material, first of all, creates more surface area for little microbes to compost, greatly accelerating the composting process, releasing nutrients back into the soil food web and perennials sooner. Often the material is no longer visible within a very short time frame. Why spread back on the bed? This method of composting in place is sometimes called chop and drop. Chop and drop creates a seasonal layer of mulch, suppressing weeds and more importantly feeding the soil with a diverse diet of decomposing plant material.
Next week, we will discuss how we handle the mass of falling leaves.