Important tidying for plant health in winter

After a week of rain it’s no surprise that the garden is a bit soggy. My lawn is squelchy and the clay-based soil in my borders is heavy and sticky. So, I’m doing my best to keep to the hard surfaces around the garden, like the paths and patio, to avoid turning lawn edges and beds into a quagmire.

But there is one task that I can’t put off, and that’s the clearance of collapsed stems and soggy foliage.

Soggy foliage in winter
The old leaves of this Crocosmia have got very soggy and collapsed.

Not too tidy

I leave most old stems and seed heads in place over the winter because they provide homes and food for wildlife, and they add structure and interest to the borders during the bleakest months.

Old stems and seed heads
Old stems and seed heads add structure and interest to winter borders

They also provide protection from frost and snow for the crown of the plant and any new growth that is emerging.

Old Sedum stems protect the crown of the plant
Old stems and seed heads protect new growth emerging from the crown in winter

Clearing soggy foliage

But collapsed stems and pulpy leaves need to be cut back and removed. Leaving wet decaying material in your borders is practically inviting fungi and diseases to move in.

The decaying wet leaves of this day lily had collapsed over the crown of the plant.

Soggy leaves of a day lily

It only took a few minutes to pull the wet leaves away.

Soggy leaves cleared from crown of plant

Future compost

And it can all be recycled. The old leaves (no matter how soggy) are great ‘brown material’ to add to the compost bin. And the old stems, which also pulled away easily, can be shredded or used as stakes when they dry.

Cleared leaves and stems
The cleared leaves and stems can be composted and shredded

It was a quick and easy task that will benefit the plant. Meanwhile, there is still plenty of ‘mess’ in the garden to keep the wildlife happy.