There are some gardeners who claim that they do little to no fall clean-up. They make it sound quite virtuous to let nature do its thing through fall and winter.
They want us to believe that once the first leaf falls from a tree, they put up their hoes, put up their feet, and watch the season change.
That’s not what I do! I do fall clean-up. Yes, I do! I’ll admit it.
I embrace fall clean-up for a happier life.
I’m not terribly neat about it. I don’t end up with a clean-swept garden, with every perennial cut back to precisely three inches and every leaf picked up and contained in the compost bins. I like to call what I do “preparing the garden” so that in the spring, I don’t have a lot of clean up to do before I start planting again.
Even if you don’t believe in fall clean-up, there are some things you should do in the fall to avoid problems in the spring.
- Prune out diseased plants and throw them away (away-away, not into the compost bins)
- Prune out any dead wood. (Do that any time.)
- Weed. Embrace weeding in a big way and don’t give those weed a chance to live through the winter.
- Put away garden furniture, containers, and ornaments. They’ll last longer if they don’t get a bunch of ice and snow all over them.
- Rake up leaves that form thick mats if left alone, like maples, for example.
- Continue to water newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials until it’s good and cold out.
- Start an exercise program, if you consider “gardening” your exercise, so that you won’t get all out of shape in the winter and then aren’t able to garden in the spring.
The other gardening activity that is good to do in the fall is planting. Trees and shrubs do quite well when planted in the fall. And of course, we all know that spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall.
It takes a bit of discipline to keep gardening in the fall, when the days are shorter and its colder out, and dog-gone it you are just plain tired of this year’s garden.
You might even be waiting for a frost, like I was, to signal that it is time to start clean-up in earnest. (It was a great excuse for awhile...)
Just remember, as you are waiting, what Henry Mitchell wrote:
“… but fall--not spring—is the great planting season for woody things. If, in other words, you had thought of lolling in the warm weekends admiring the chrysanthemums and the dogwoods turning red, congratulating yourself perhaps that the weeds are losing heart, let me cheerfully remind you that you should be exhausted (not lolling) since this is the busiest of all the garden seasons. When you are not planting bulbs, digging up bindweed roots, rooting out pokeweed, soaking bamboo, there are still other tasks. Thousands of them. You are terribly behind. The very idea of just sitting about in the sun!” Henry Mitchell
Now, who has been lolling about when they should have been out and about in the garden in this very busy season?
I’ll admit I was, but I am back at it now. The vegetable garden bed above looked like this just a few days ago.
Now it is all nice and neat with just three volunteer petunias still growing in it.
I left the petunias because we haven’t had a killing frost yet, so they are still blooming. It’s hard to pull out flowers that are still blooming, isn’t it? (Please validate that I am not the only one who leaves annual flowers in the ground or in the containers as long as they are still blooming?)
I’ve got a lot more to do to get the garden ready for winter, but I’m embracing the fall clean-up and doing it a little at a time. Before I know it, I’ll be all ready for winter again.
Well, the garden will be ready for winter, but I’m not sure I’m ready for the cold and snow just yet.
My delphinium is still alive.
If we don’t have a killing frost this week, maybe it will bloom. Or is it already too cold and those buds are going to stay just like that? Time will tell...