Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chop and Drop

Over the years I've had the most interesting conversations with fellow Master Gardeners, writers and associates.  Some of the gardening practices we grew up doing, we've found not to be necessarily best for our gardens.  For instance, every spring I used to scuffle, or break up the soil around the plants but it was discovered this would destroy soil organisms close to the surface and it was better to leave things be.
Every gardener knows how fertile a forest floor is from decomposing leaves and other litter; Mother Nature doesn't come through with a big rake to 'tidy' things up.  Even along roadsides, no one cuts back the stalks of goldenrod, asters and other wildflowers, yet they grow back through their own decomposing matter to be as beautiful as ever.
That's where the term 'chop and drop' comes from.  When cutting back perennials in the garden, you can chop the leaves and stems and let them drop to break down over winter and add to the soil.
 This is a garden in the back showing the remnants of a peony along with maple leaves from the neighbour's tree.
 The same garden showing how it looks from a distance.  I don't do this with all of the plants, as we have a 3 bin composting system I use as well.
Because we have no sod in the front or back, we let the leaves fall where they may, our days of raking leaves off the lawn are gone.  They break down fairly well over winter and continue to do so into spring.  Our soil has many earthworms that do a lot of the work and by late spring, only leaf stems are left.  (*note that diseased plants must be disposed of)
One can't be a neat freak to do this type of gardening, it doesn't look messy.....just different.  
Do you clean your gardens up all neat and tidy in the fall?
I'm linking with Fertilizer Friday.


  1. I like that chop and drop method. I've still got a few plants to cut down and I need to pile up the leaves on the front garden where the grasses are. I also follow Mother Nature's way of sowing seeds. I leave the seed head around the plants and have lovely surprises in the spring when new little plants are growing. It is chilly and damp here today, time to snuggle up with an afghan and some knitting.

  2. I think next year is my last year of mulch. Things should be big enough after the new stuff breaks down that I can go to a little of this same theory of leaving more to decompose also. I know it works great for the soil.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. So mulching isn't good. Gosh, I'm so conflicted. I have been reading so many gardeners who want that garden bed cleaned out to avoid disease and slugs. I prefer the look of mulch, but I can be persuaded. It just means that I need more plants! Thanks for the very interesting information. Oh, perhaps the leave thing changes given the kind of leaf. We have a lot of oak leaves and they take forever to break down.

  4. This is an interesting post, Judith. I had never heard of the chop and drop method. It definitely makes sense, though. It's so important to get humus into the soil. One year I had so many cucumbers that I buried them in the garden - another way of adding humus. As far as chop and drop this year - I won't be doing it, as I just put down mulch. However, I applied compost first, then my mulch and my mulch breaks down over a year so it too is adding good things to the soil. Again, I really liked the information you shared today. You might consider linking this great info to Fertilizer Friday and/or Home and Garden Thursday. Have a wonderful wknd!!!
    Blessings, Beth

  5. I'm glad I read this before I cut off my perennials! I used to leave the stems standing all winter then last year I decided to cut them off and dispose of them to make the garden 'neat' looking. We put mulched leaves all over the flower beds to protect the plants and they break down some but I usually have to clean them up in spring. I think we use too many leaves! This year I'll 'chop and drop' and mulch with leaves. I did notice we had a lot of earthworms this spring. Thanks for the tip!

  6. What a great idea! It will save lots of moving the wheelbarrow with all the cuttings to the compost. We usually get snow early so it all will be covered soon anyway. Thanks for the tip!

  7. Hi Judith,
    This is a very interesting and informational post. I have to admit, we do clean up our gardens neat and tidy by bagging up all the debris from cutting etc. Now after learning this, I can see where we could leave some debris to cover over the winter. We are going to do trimming this weekend in fact, so maybe we should give some areas a try.
    Great garden info my friend.

    Thank you for stopping by and your kind comment and giveaway entry.
    Have a wonderful weekend.
    Hugs, Celestina Marie

  8. I have largely done Chop And Drop since moving into this house. Elsewhere, I let my leaves fall where they may, and in spring I throw compost on top to make them look a little neater. The leaves decompose beautifully.

    Yael from Home Garden Diggers

  9. Quite a thought provoking post. As far as leaves on our lawns, I always chop them very fine with my tractor which has a mulching mower... of course this is the case all season with the grass clippings as well. This appears to be very good for the lawns.
    I see some comments suggesting that mulching isn't good for the gardens. I would say it depends on what you mulch with. We always use many yards of chopped pallets (soft wood that breaks down faster) on ours and our soil is a testament to the difference it has made over the years. If you've ever seen pictures of mulched vs unmulched root systems, the difference is very impressive with the mulched being much fuller. Again... the type of mulch used probably makes a big difference. Regarding the chop and drop of plant materials, I personally would never leave peonies in the mix since they frequently have fungal disease, even if you can't see it... that's why I never compost them either. I often will blow the garden debris onto the lawn after the winter... I chop it fine with the mulching mower and then return it to the gardens. One can't help but be concerned about 'critters' such as slug eggs on the hosta foliage so I often rake this off the beds after it has dried up in November... right or not, I am unsure. Bottom line, there are many areas in the gardens that get only the drop part of the process since I can't always get to the clean-up process everywhere I'd like! Thanks for this interesting post. Larry

  10. I think we are about half and half on the way we do things, and always a work in progress as we learn new things, I'm just so glad the new season is here (except it's warm again today ....) Have a good weekend!

  11. I have not cleaned the garden of debris in the fall, but I did pick it up in the spring because I always had a slug problem if I wasn't careful and the rotting debris made for great slug habitat. I like the suggestion of putting it on the lan and using my new mower to chop it up before putting it back. if I can make the time I will give that a shot.

  12. Thanks for the tips, Judith. I haven't cleaned up the garden yet. At least the birds are enjoying the coneflower seeds! I hope you're having a nice weekend.


  13. I like to pile up leaves super deep on one side of my house. Perfect weed barrier :-)

  14. No raking for me, thanks. I let the leaves do their business in the fall and winter, but then in spring I get manic about raking them all up! Thanks for the info on "Chop and Drop." Now I can continue doing what I've been doing with a clear conscience, ha!


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