Fall Garden Cleanup Tips

To clean up your garden beds or not to clean up?  Just ask anyone, you’ll get a different answer!  Believe it or not, fall garden cleanup can be a heated topic.  I’ve been surveying different people and there are some strong feelings out there!  Today, I’m going to lay out some practical tips for fall garden cleanup that will help you get a head start on next years garden.

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Perennial Gardens 

On both sides of the fall garden cleanup debate, there are solid pros and cons.  As a gardener for hire, I’ve always cleaned up customers gardens because it’s so hard to cut down all of the properties in the spring.  Fall cleanup does not eliminate spring cleanup.  But, it makes spring garden maintenance so much easier.  For my personal gardens, I have always done some cutting. There are just so many things to do at that time of year-getting veggie gardens planted, making customers gardens presentable and cleaning and edging my own beds.

It's a messy job!
It’s a messy job!

On the other side of the coin, leaving perennial gardens as they are through the winter can have some benefits.  Standing plants can provide food and shelter for birds.  Bees can have a continuous food supply until they are ready to go to sleep for winter.  Some tender plants are given a bit of extra protection from the debris left in the garden.  Gardens covered in plant matter are also excellent for preventing erosion.  Flower heads covered in snow or frost are gorgeous to look at and make spectacular photo ops!

Leaving flowers can provide food for the bees!
Leaving flowers can provide food for the bees!

In one of my clients gardens, I left the gaillardia.  It’s still blooming and I can leave it as long as I want.  As long as the weather stays mild, the flowers will slowly continue to bloom.

Many perennials still put out blossoms.
Many perennials still put out blossoms.

You may not want to leave any flower seed heads that will overtake your flower garden.  Any plants susceptible to powdery mildew or other pests should be removed from the garden.  This can be very important for organic growers who try to prevent problems before they happen.

November blooms!
November blooms!

If you do choose to cleanup, cover any sensitive planting with mulch, leaves or boughs.  This is very worthwhile if there is little or no snow cover like last year.

Fall is also a time when you can get some weeding done that may have been overlooked in very summer months.  I was listening to a podcast from A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach and Ken Druse.  I totally enjoyed their practical approach to fall garden cleanup.  One tip that they shared about fall weeding was that caution should be used because the soil gets disturbed and weed seeds can fall in the freshly cultivated dirt.  Ken was recommending cutting the seeds off of the weeds if you couldn’t do anything else.  His blog 7 Fall Cleanup Tasks You Shouldn’t Skip was filled with some great info.

A great chance to deal with weeds!
A great chance to deal with weeds!

Vegetable Gardens

I would say that most vegetable gardeners like to cleanup spent plants as soon as they are done.  Fall cleanup is so much easier than dealing with a bunch of dead, mushy plants in the spring.  What an advantage you will have if your veggie beds are ready to be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.  Crops such as carrots, beets and the like can be put in right away.

When you remove plants, you also have the opportunity to sow seeds for fall harvest as I have outlined in Plant Your Fall Garden Now and Fall Garden Harvest.  Succession planting can add tons of food to your table.

Dead flowers covered in ice, great photo op!
Dead flowers covered in ice, great photo op!

Some plants should be removed to prevent further diseases and pests.  In our area we deal with tomato blight.  Since this problem is airborne and spread through plant tissue, it is vital to get rid of any parts of the diseased plant or even the fruit.  We actually put our plants in the trash. If placed in the compost, they can just make the situation worse.  So, even though it pains me to send plant matter to the local dump, it is a must in this situation.

Any plants with heavy pests should be destroyed.  Don’t think that a killing frost or winter will do away with those pests!

Seed heads left in the garden create winter interest!
Seed heads left in the garden create winter interest!

Annuals

I would say that the majority of gardeners pull dead annuals out of pots and the ground in the fall.  There’s usually no hope of rejuvenating most annuals. Before I pull plants such as cosmos or calendula, I always collect or scatter seeds over the garden beds.  This way, there is a good chance of reseeding for next year.

Remove dead annuals.
Remove dead annuals.

Leaves

Most of the clients I’ve had over the years have had professional leaf removal.  I have always strictly concentrated on the flower beds.  Some say to leave the leaf litter to make a habitat for creatures.  Leaves do make a good mulch but they take years to decompose.  Since we live in the woods, it has been important to rake the leaves away from the house.  Too many ticks reside in these piles of leaves, mice too, for that matter.  We have had a bumper crop of acorns and leaves this fall.  In my opinion, if creatures need a habitat, they can live on the other 9 1/2 acres that we own!  This week, I was reading the Garden Rant blog and laughed out loud as I read their explanation of why you should get rid of leaves in your gardens.  Very realistic advice!

Coreopsis in the afternoon sun.
Coreopsis in the afternoon sun.

In the past, when I worked with a group of woman gardeners, we were taught immaculate gardening techniques.  We left nothing, not even footprints!  We worked at many public facilities and immense private properties.  Constant upkeep was vital for appearances and to keep our customers happy.  The home gardener has the choice of how far they will take their fall garden cleanup.  It is a satisfying feeling having the fall chores done, a warm fire crackling in the stove and snowflakes dropping out of the sky!

Still a few flowers left!
Still a few flowers left!

Feel free to weigh in (comment below) on the great fall cleanup debate! Remember that we all garden differently and have diverse backgrounds.  I’m so happy that you joined me this week here at Everlongardener!   You are welcome to subscribe in the sidebar for the weekly blog.  Join me on Instagram for daily gardening pictures!  Thank you for reading these fall garden cleanup tips!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

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