DESIGN IN NATURE: Chop and drop gardening keeps green space neat and tidy

The tail end of summer is upon us and lots of plants are looking tatty by now.

I want to remind everyone about the benefits of chop and drop for tidying up the garden.

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Rather than removing a lot of valuable organic matter from the garden, it makes sense to only remove any material that will spread unwanted seeds, or problematic weeds.

Shears make clean up easy. Just start at the top of the plant and clip the stems into pieces that fall around the base of the plant. Why use fossil fuel to send material away and then purchase more for amending and mulching? For those of you that are obsessed with clean and tidy, after a few months of this treatment, the layer is thick enough that the mulch layer looks very uniform. A good mulch layer will conserve water, improve soil texture, provide habitat for beneficial insects and can increase the winter soil temperatures of the soil by three or more degrees depending on thickness.

I remove alchemilla mollis flower heads as they seed everywhere and become a problem, same with euphorbia wulfenii heads, but they are probably long gone by this time of year. Morning glory and buttercups get tossed along with any annual weeds with seed heads. I keep all dandelion plants, if not needed where they are growing, and I dig the root and lay on top to decompose. They are full of minerals they have pulled up from deep in the ground. Same goes for nettle tops if you grow them. Now that they have finished flowering, I cut them down to feed the soil and prepare the plants for another fall harvest of fresh shoots.

With the garlic harvested there is now space for some new plants to fill the space. I have found beets and carrots never have time to mature before the weather turns cold, and space given fall root crops in my garden has been wasted. I have better success with planting purple sprouting broccoli or simply letting my kale and chard plants self-seed and fill the space.

This self-seed process is very convenient for me. Arugula is one of my favourite greens, and now is a good time to seed that as well, or let existing ones go to seed. I planted arugula last spring, harvested it all last spring and summer and left the old plants in over the winter. They regrew this spring and I am still harvesting baby greens by cutting the young leaves off with scissors. They just keep on keeping on. I am in favour of less work and more food!

Heather Schamehorn is a certified residential landscape designer, educator, sustainability advocate and acupressure therapist. Contact via

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