Chop-and-Drop: Quick and easy way to abundance

Chop-and-Drop: A Quick and Easy Way to Abundance

The frost has arrived, and your warm-loving garden plants have all passed on. What do you do with all the leftover plant material? What about the raspberry canes you need cut to ensure a great harvest next year? Chop-and-drop can turn this leftover plant material into next year’s abundance.

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What is Chop-and-Drop?

Chop-and-drop is basically exactly what it sounds like.

You chop (or cut) the plant material and then drop it on the ground.

It really is that simple.

At the end of the growing season, all your annual plants and a lot of your non-woody perennial plants will die back to the ground. This is normal, but it can leave your garden looking a bit messy.

Often people will yank these dead plants out (sometimes even before they’re dead!) and haul them away to the yard waste bin or compost pile.

Please don’t put them in the yard waste bin—that is ready-made soil fertility leaving your property! Basically, it’s like throwing nature’s very own fertilizer out with the trash.

Sending them to the compost pile is okay, but moving all the plant material, balancing brown and green material, monitoring temperature, turning the pile—that just seems like a lot of work to me.

But what happens in a natural system?

All the fall leaves, branches, logs, and other dead plant material just fall to the ground, where they become food for soil life, resulting in deep rich soil.

By observing and learning from nature, we can mimic this way of handling “waste” and save ourselves time and energy while building future abundance.

By observing and learning from nature, we can mimic this way of handling “waste” and save ourselves time and energy while building future abundance.

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Chop-and-drop also keeps the roots in the soil, where they can hold the soil together and further feed soil life.

5 Benefits of Chop-and-Drop

  • 1
    Supports soil life.
  • 2
    Leaves the roots of the plants in the soil, which adds organic material deep in the soil as the roots decompose.
  • 3
    Reduces water loss from evaporation.
  • 4
    Slowly releases nutrients back into your soil.
  • 5
    Saves you time and energy by eliminating the need to compost or haul the plant material away.

To help you use chop-and-drop to create abundance on your property I have created a free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet. Sign up to get yours, and don’t miss out on this free source of abundance.

How and When to Chop and Drop

Fresh chop-and-drop material from a logan berry

Fresh logan berry chop-and-drop material. I cut up the big vines so they would be easy to handle.

Chop-and-drop may be simple in principle but there are some details you need to know to get the most out of it.

First, if you’re familiar with chop-and-drop then you may have seen books and other sites listing the best plants for chop and drop. These are plants that tend to have deep tap roots, produce a lot of biomass (plant material), and are sometimes nitrogen fixers.

While these plants are great, almost any plant can be used for chop-and-drop. If you’re just cleaning up the dead plants after a frost, then go ahead and use them all. Don’t worry if they are not one of the listed plants.

Key Takeaway

You can chop-and-drop any plant but some will produce more material than others.

But when should you chop and drop?

Work with nature to create a low water garden

Rainfall on my homestead in September after a very dry summer. This marked the start of the chop-and-drop season.

The basic rule that is often given is to wait until the amount of precipitation (rain or snow) is greater than evaporation.

In other words, is your area getting wetter or getting drier? Typically, this means you can chop and drop in the spring and in the fall (as long as your area gets rain during those times).

You wouldn’t want to do it anytime your area is dry – this is likely in the summer but could also be during the winter in some areas.

Key Takeaway

Chop-and-drop when the amount of precipitation (rain or snow) is greater than evaporation.

How should you chop and drop?

This is a great gift for a homesteader - the hori hori knife

Chop-and-drop is a simple technique that involves cutting down old vegetation and letting it fall. Here I'm using my hori hori knife to cut down some old plant stalks in my garden.

It sounds so easy right? Just chop ‘em and drop ‘em. But when you try to do it and you have this mess of tomato vines, thick sunflower stalks, long raspberry canes, etc.

It can be a lot to manage. So much easier to just toss it in the bin, right?

Wrong!

If you put in a little time up front, nature will take it from there. Instead of turning that compost bin over and over again, you can just sit back and let nature’s cleanup crew do the work for you.

Here’s what I mean.

I like to cut up those big unruly stems into small pieces. This can take a bit of time, and I recommend you get a good pair of clippers, garden scissors or my favorite—a hori hori knife.

But after that, you will be left with a relatively fine mulch that will break down quickly, providing food for soil life and enriching your soil, which will help bring about next year’s abundance.

Wild Tip

Chop and drop large plants into small pieces to create great mulch and future abundance. It takes time to do this but still easier than composting and you build soil fertility on site.

What About Disease, Pests and Seeds?

Chop-and-drop plants before they go to seed if you don't want volunteers

Some plants like lettuce may go to seed if you wait to chop-and-drop. If you don't want volunteer plants the next year then make sure to chop-and-drop before the plants go to seed. Image Credit: Graibeard CC BY-SA 2.0

You might be thinking, Chop-and-drop sounds great, but what about diseases and seeds? Aren’t you just going to end up with problems next year?

Well, seeds could stick around if you let the plants that you are chopping and dropping go to seed first. But luckily, if they germinate in the spring, it will be fairly easy to use a hoe to weed them out.

Plus, a lot of vegetables like lettuce will self-seed, meaning that you get a free very early harvest of lettuce.

Then the “weeding” is really just harvesting!

You can also place a layer of leaf mold or fall leaves on top of the chop and drop plant material to help minimize the chance that seeds will germinate. This will make your garden area look a little cleaner, build the soil even more, and smother some of the seeds that try to germinate.

In my own garden, I don’t worry too much about the seeds. I’ve had a lot of volunteers come up, but I just use a hoe or mattock to quickly thin them—or I just harvest them!

The plants I weed out can just be left on the ground – more chop-and-drop!

But what about disease and pests?

In my view, you shouldn’t worry too much about disease unless you know the plants you are chopping and dropping have a disease you are trying to eliminate.

In this case, the compost pile might be your best option for diseased cuttings. But the vast majority of diseases will not be passed on from chop-and-dropped material.

The same goes for pests.

But if you follow the practices I outline in my post on controlling garden pests you should have a healthy garden that functions as part of an ecosystem.

This will make it very resilient to diseases and minimize the impact of pests.

Just as we all get exposed to germs but most of us rarely actually get sick, your wild homestead will be able to take those germs or pests in stride. In fact, the soil life that you build with this process is part of what keeps your wild homestead so healthy.

Key Takeaway

Chop and drop plants before they go to seed if you want to avoid volunteers the following spring. Don't worry about disease unless your plants have a disease you are trying to eliminate. Building soil fertility will decease the vulnerability of your plants to disease.

Moving Forward with Chop-and-Drop

Chop-and-drop mimics what happens naturally, in any natural environment. Dead plant material falls to the ground, where it breaks down, feeding soil life and building soil.

By timing your chop-and-drop for the spring or fall, you can get the most abundance in the future.

This post focused on using chop-and-drop on dead plant material, but you can also use chop-and-drop on living plants. Some, like comfrey, will quickly regrow, and can be chopped and dropped multiple times a year.

Woody plants like trees and shrubs can also be a good source of chop-and-drop material. Just cut the branches like you normally would when pruning, but instead of hauling them away, simply drop the branches down on the ground.

Cut them up small and they will basically work like wood chip mulch.

If you are just getting started, then practice chop-and-drop on the dead plants in your garden in the fall. Treat them like nature treats plants in a forest

Just chop them, drop them to the ground, and walk away.

If you do this every fall, you will be returning nutrients to your soil, supporting soil life, building your soil, and saving yourself time and energy.

Don’t forget to grab your free easy-to-print cheat sheet, and please leave a comment below with your thoughts and experience on chop-and-drop.


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • sue says:

    I am ready to give it a go, have ordered my hori hori, thanks for inspiring me!

    • Daron says:

      Awesome! Good luck! I use my hori hori all the time on my homestead and I have been chop and dropping regularly this spring as plants get a little too big and grow over paths. Easy way to build up soil!

  • Kate says:

    I have compacta hollies in my front bed. If I chop and drop, all those bits will become new plants! I am trying to get rid of these plants to be replaced with something that would be easier to maintain.

    • Daron says:

      Some plants will root from cuttings dropped on the ground as you mentioned. But most don’t and overall chop-and-drop is a fantastic way to build mulch. You can also take the cuttings and just let them dry out and fully die and then use them as mulch. I do this with English ivy since it can root from cuttings.

  • Cécile says:

    As far as insects and sickness goes, you might want to encourage chickens eating the fallen fruit in the orchard: rotten fruit should not be chopped and dropped.

    • Daron says:

      I fully agree that chickens are a great option for that. Chop-and-drop is really focused on the leaves, stems and woody material from the plants. Fruit fall should be collected in most cases and composted or as you suggested chickens or other animals need to go through and help clean it up. At the moment I don’t have chickens but I’m planning on getting some in part for this reason.

  • Vanessa Alarcon says:

    Great info! I just chopped a lot of vegetation and dropped it where I cut it. However, here in Fl we are entering winter and that’s our dry season. Can I just water the pile?

    • Daron says:

      Thanks! I think watering is fine but check the material first to see if it’s moist. If it’s staying moist then you can wait on watering. Keeping chop and drop material moist will speed up the breakdown of the material but is not needed. Just depends on how long you want to wait for the material to breakdown.

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