Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
This time of year I am always asked if I am going to cut back my backyard after the first freeze. After the first freeze, I stand at my kitchen sink looking into what occupied so much of my spring and summer time. A little sadness always creeps in but also some relief that the July and August heat are gone once again.
The answer to the question, unfortunately, is it depends on what type of garden and yard you have. Of course, if you have any type of plant that is diseased it should be removed from your yard and gotten rid of. Please don’t add it to your compost pile.
As Master Gardeners we are taught IPM – integrated pest management. Texas A&M University describes IPM as: "A sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health and environmental risks." Hopefully letting nature work for you will allow you to do less.
So leave your perennials standing which will provide a place to watch birds picking out the seeds. It will also provide homes for overwintering insects which, in turn, will provide food for the birds and for each other. Let nature take care of itself. Maybe in the spring you will see a few migrating birds visit your garden looking for leftovers.
In late winter (or when you simply can’t stand it anymore) cut down the stalks and chop into about 6” lengths and use as mulch along with the leaves that you have gathered from your trees. Your spring plants will thank you for the organic material.
In your vegetable garden it is probably best to clear old growth since many plants have seed heads that will start too many unwanted new plants. If tomatoes and peppers have dropped off and are laying on the ground, you may want to rake them up and feed them to the wildlife. Otherwise, next year you will have too many plants. This is also a good time to recognize what worked best with the least amount of time and effort (and water) from you. If you have a plant that was labor intensive, mark it off the list for next year.
Think of the time you are saving by not cleaning so early. Use the time to clean, sharpen and oil all your tools. Straighten out and sweep your garden shed and clean up your potting table. Next spring when you open the door and everything is clean and ready for a new year, you will be glad you did.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information.