3 Benefits of Letting Your Garden Go to Seed

By Margaret Oakley Otto, Houzz

In late summer and early fall, many gardeners are faced with the quandary of what to clean up and what to leave. Deadheading, a horticultural term for trimming off spent flower stalks, can sometimes encourage more blooms on your flowering shrubs and is generally used to remove the “brown stuff” in a garden.

I advocate taking a closer look at the brown seed heads and spent flower stalks in your landscape and thinking twice before snipping them off. The spent flowers of your native shrubs and subshrubs often contain nutritious seeds that are a critical food source for many species of birds. You may also be able to use some of these seeds to propagate new native plants for your garden — or your neighbor’s. And there is an impressive geometry to many seed heads that often goes unnoticed.

Food for the birds. Many dried flower stalks, especially those of native plants, contain nutritious seeds that feed numerous species of birds. Trimming these stalks too soon can reduce the habitat benefits of your garden. One of the great boons of a native garden is that your plants have coevolved with the local fauna (birds, caterpillars and native bees) for thousands of years, if not more. There are species of birds that are native to your area, or are historical migrators through your area, and they are counting on those native seeds to get them through winter.

For Californians with native gardens who would like more information about feeding birds, I recommend Las Pilitas Nursery’s chart of native plants that attract birds.

Related: Install a Bird Bath Too