The vegetables have been picked, the temperatures are cooling, and fall has arrived. You know you should clean up your garden for the year, but lets be real–you’re feeling the time crunch with back to school, a busy work life, or just plain being sick of your garden. While a proper garden clean up is ideal, I’m going to give you my guide to what you must do–and what you can skip, so that your garden is dealt with in record time.
Fifteen Minutes a Day of Garden Clean Up is Better than a Punishing Weekend Marathon
I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. The reason why you’re likely putting off preparing your garden for winter is that you think it’s going to take you FOREVER. You don’t have a spare 5 hours to devote to the garden, so why even bother? Plus, all the rewards that come with maintaining your garden (aka pretty flowers and delicious vegetables) have already passed, so there’s little motivation to continue.
I challenge you to pick one chore a day (or three each week, whatever is manageable) and get that one thing done. You’ll build positive momentum and your garden will be winterized before you know it!
Let’s dive in to what you absolutely must do first:
Pick any Remaining Vegetables
You’d be surprised how often vegetables get unnoticed or left behind and manage to avoid light frosts. Just today as I was taking one last photo shoot in my garden, my friend and I noticed 8 cucumbers on my cucumber trellis that had managed to survive. There were also quite a few yellow pear tomatoes that were perfect for eating.
Add as Much as You Can to the Compost
This is the last chance you’ll have to fill your compost well, so load it up with any bad vegetables, vines, greenery, leaves, or any other organic matter you have. The one exception? Anything that is diseased. Put those plants in the garbage or burn them.
Remove Plants and Dirt from Pots
Take out all your tired flowers and dying vegetable stalks and add the remaining dirt to your main garden. If you garden exclusively with pots, leave the dirt in over the winter, and you can mix it up with nutrient rich compost and manure in the spring.
Do not compost any plant material that is diseased. The disease will not be killed in a home compost, therefore making next years garden more difficult when the disease comes back with a vengeance!
If you have a little more time: Give your pots a quick wash with a hose or hot soapy water.
Like the bottom pot? Here’s how you can DIY your own.
Remove any tender bulbs and Store for the Winter
Depending on what zone you live in, the definition of tender bulbs will vary. Where I garden in zone 3b, we have to remove dahlias, calla lilies, and glads. If you skip this step, your bulbs will rot into the ground and you will not have those flowers next year.
To store tender bulbs, lightly remove most of the dirt and store in a cool, dry, and dark place. Check every month or so and remove any that have molded or gone soft.
If you have a little more time: Plant spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils. Divide and transplant any overgrown perennials.
Weed Your Garden One Last Time Before Winter
Don’t let the weeds get the best of you. Remove any weeds before they go to seed and make your garden more difficult to deal with next year. Same goes for any overgrown perennials that you want to reign in.
(P.S.–I get a lot of flack for my hatred of perennials that take over a garden bed. However, you must understand that we bought a house in which that the yard was so overgrown that for two years in a row I removed over 200 ferns. . each year. I’ve also been removing purple bell flower and lily of the valley for three years and I’ve barely made a dent in my flower beds. They just keep coming back!! While those flowers are lovely, there are so many other varieties I would rather grow in that space.)
If you have a little more time: Go one step further and add some compost and manure to the freshly-weeded soil so you’re ready to go for next year.
Rake the Leaves and Mow the Lawn
You don’t have to rake the leaves. However, those leaves can be used to insulate perennials, as compost for the garden, or to store root vegetables without refrigeration. Raking the leaves is a task that can easily be hired out to high school students or church youth groups quite inexpensively.
Mow the lawn (if you have it) so that your lawn doesn’t look terrible come Spring
If you have a little more time: Add grass seed to bare spots.
Insulate Tender Shrubs
I live in a climate where people generally do not wrap any of their shrubs to winterize them. However, I know this is a common practice many places in Canada and the US. If you see your neighbours wrapping burlap around a shrub that you also have in your yard, you’ll want to do the same.
Readers, if any of you have some advice for the beginners reading this article, could you please leave it in the comments?
Now for the things you can skip. . .
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Trimming the Dead Leaves of Perennials
It may not look as pretty, but your perennials will still return even if you don’t cut away all the dead stuff. It can easily be done in the spring. Depending on the perennial, the dead leaves and stalks can create some nice winter interest in the yard.
Clean Your Garden Tools
In an ideal world, you would clean and disinfect your garden tools. It will help them last longer and prevent the spread of disease. Will the world end if you don’t? No. At the very least, tidy up your shed and make sure your tools have a home so that you can easily find them again.
Pruning Fruit Trees
You should prune your fruit trees. However, this is a task that is better hired out if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unless you have a giant orchard, paying an arborist to prune a couple of trees in your backyard is going to be way more cost effective than you hacking away at some poor tree and ruining it unintentionally.
What happens if you just leave it for a year…or five? Well, probably nothing the first year. In later years, your fruit may have one good year with tons of fruit, then nothing the next year. The fruit that does manage to grow may also not be as large as it could be.
Finished all your gardening tasks? Buy yourself a pot of Mums and enjoy the beautiful fall season. We won’t judge if you also buy yourself a pumpkin spice latte and cozy up with a good book too.
What fall gardening chores do you do? Any that you skip?
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Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.