Are You Wasting Time Doing Garden Busywork?

I started thinking about "garden busywork" when a reader asked about our To-Do list in our August Washington Gardener Enews and whether "cutting back iris foliage" was really necessary. You now what? It is NOT. Actually, there is no real reason to do so, but garden tradition handed down from those fussy Victorians. I am striking it from our To-Do list henceforth.

You know what else is absolutely not needed? Tying up your spring bulb foliage into neat, little packages. Leave it alone. Let it soak up all the sun's nutrients and then die back on its own. Then clean it out. You'll get a bigger, better crop of bulbs next year as a result. Of course, you have to live with messy, floppy, dying foliage for a few weeks, but don't be so anal. You'll live. Trust me.

How about pruning Crape Myrtle seedheads? Forget about it. You gain nothing by it and neither does the plant. Spend the time instead with a good book and relaxing in your favorite garden chair.

Who started that foolishness anyway about plucking the blossoms off your azaleas after they start to go brown? I think I'll give the Victorians a pass her and blame the Brits for this one. Guess what? Azalea blooms self-shed and quite cleanly without any human interference. No need to dead-head them -- ever. Maybe they are not doing it on your schedule, but hey, it doesn't ever rain when I want it to either. Relax and let Mother Nature do her job.

Come to think of it most pruning, topping, and hedging folks do in the garden is unnecessary and likely harmful to the plant's health. Most likely they are doing it out of habit or because the previous owners did or just because they feel compelled to "make it neat."

Then there are the lawn warriors who must cut their turf down on a regular schedule no matter if it grew any or not. No matter that a longer turf grass is a healthier grass and does better in shading out weed seeds. Some folks just need to get out there and ride the gas-fume express.

Take a look at what you are doing in the garden and ask yourself, "Self, is this what I really need to be doing now?" You may be surprised at the answer.


Amen. I've never even heard of trimming iris foliage, and ours have been doing just fine for years.
Kathy said…
Some deadheading will gain you a second flush of bloom, and some plants, like Shasta daisies, seem to die out entirely if not deadheaded. It's true, you have to know why you are performing certain chores, but some are recommended in garden books and magazines for a reason.
Absolutely, Kathy P, deadheading of many perennials is a "good thing" as Martha would say, but if you don't know why or when to cut back, "laissez-faire" is often the best way to go.
Elizabeth TNC, you'll note the trimmed iris foliage starting as early as June in some gardens around town. Old habits die hard.
Mary Delle said…
Your bog really wakes me up to the die-hard customs we have for gardens. Thanks for a thought-provoking blog.

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