More Fall Clean Up Tips

Gray skies are going to cheer us, we have a happy face...

What? Those aren't the words to the song??

They should be, at least around May Dreams Gardens here in central Indiana. It's been raining off and on since yesterday afternoon and the skies are overcast. My garden has gotten way more than one inch, but not quite two inches, of rain, near as I can tell.

Once the rain ends, I am hoping for some cool, sunny weather so I can start stripping the sod off the area where I want to plant a new tree and add a big planting bed.

I'll use the sod pieces to fill in some bare spots that invariably show up in the lawn after a dry summer. It's an easy way to get rid of the sod without filling up the compost bins. Just drop the sod piece in the bare spot and stomp it down with your foot. Stomp, stomp, stomp. The ground is nice and damp now so I won't even have to water those spots. Then by spring you won't even know where I filled in the bare spots.

And I'll get going on some real garden clean up, too, even though I am not behind in my fall clean up. There's plenty of time, so I can take it nice and easy and following my own clean up tips.

Here are ten of those tips that I've come up with after cleaning up my Zone 5 gardens in the fall for ten, twenty, more than twenty years. (Your tips may vary depending on your climate.)

Tip 1. Clean up and compost any perennials that get all mushy after the killing frost, like hostas.

Tip 2. Leave the dried up perennials that didn't turn to mush after the frost, especially if they have seed heads for the birds to eat or you are short on time. Or you can cut these perennials back if you are concerned about self-sowing or just like a tidy garden in the wintertime. The exception is hardy mums, like those pictured above. Wait until spring to cut mums back, to give them their best chance of wintering over.

Tip 3. Don't compost the peonies. Peonies can be infected with botrytis blight which can be spread through the compost. In fact, don't compost any plants that look diseased. Throw them out. An exception might be powdery mildew. I don't think it matters what you do, if a plant is likely to get powdery mildew, it is going to get it, regardless of what's in the compost.

Tip 4. Pull out and compost all annuals. They're done after the first frost anyway.

Tip 5. Empty the soil from containers. For bigger containers, I sometimes empty just the top several inches and leave the rest for next year. The exception is if the plants in the container were diseased, then definitely get rid of all the soil and clean the container thoroughly.

Tip 6. Clean up garden ornaments, furniture, and containers before you store them for the winter. I've learned that if this stuff is dirty when you store it, it will still be dirty when you get it out in the spring.

Tip 7. Carry heavy items as short a distance as possible when you put them away. Save your back! I used to haul all the stuff on the back patio around the side of my house to the garage. Then one fall I was pulling a cart with a big clay pot on it and the pot rolled off and broke in half. This was at about the same time that I realized that I had acquired more stuff than would fit in the garage anyway. So why was I trying to haul heavy stuff all that way? Now I stack up most of the back patio 'stuff' in one corner of the patio and throw a big tarp over it.

Tip 8. Toss a few moth balls under the tarp to keep the animals out. When you store stuff outside with a big tarp over it, some critters like raccoons may want to set up housekeeping under the tarp. The moth balls seem to keep them out.

Tip 9. Weed the garden and flower beds. When you trim back perennials and pull out annuals, you'll find some weeds that were hiding, hoping to winter over unseen until spring. If you weed a little now, it will save time in the spring.

Tip 10. The last time you mow the lawn, take it nice and slow and savor the moment. Kidding! I know some of you don't share a love of mowing. The real tip is when you mow the lawn for the last time, lower the blade and cut it about an inch shorter than normal. This assumes you follow the good advice of "mow high".

I think that's a good start on some fall clean up tips. Do you have any other tips to offer?


  1. Wow, I didn’t know that northern gardeners had so much work to do in the fall.

  2. you folks up north have a whole different list than a florida gardener. we rarely have killing frost, can't grow hostas or peonies, we leave our containers and replace the annuals because they will actually do better this time of year than in the intolerable heat of summer, our leaves don't fall until around february when we will use them for mulch, we don't put away our garden ornaments and furniture... as a matter of fact we use our furniture now because it is bearable to be outside, there isn't any storage of stuff so no moth balls and tarps needed, and of course there is no such thing as a last time to mow the lawn because we go right on mowing through the winter.

    our fall clean-up is much like our spring clean-up. lots of trimming back and pruning from summer overgrowth. we fertilize our lawns now and plant annuals and perennials.

    it sure was fun to read your list though just to see the differences in the regions.

  3. Hey Rusty and Meems,

    Stop rubbing it in about your Zone 9 weather. A lot of us will be down there in February to check it out. Just kidding !

    Carol, great post. I would only add one thing since I'm partial to one annual that doesn't have to be tossed into the compost bin - Coleus can be potted up as a nice indoor houseplant .

  4. Carol, I like all your ideas, but my favorite one about cleaning up for the fall is to wait until spring. Well, you know how casual I am about garden chores, but I did put away the ornaments (dirty) and the swing (clean). I'm halfway there!

  5. God Morning Indiana, thank you for stopping by Tyra's Garden. I wrote to the other day that I was calm and organized, done with most of the cleaning up. But after reading your new post....I've som more thing to do :) It's a gorgouse day today, sunshine from a crystal clear sky.....perfect for cleaning and perhaps a walk in the woods. Have a nice day Carol./Tyra in Vaxholm

  6. Carol: Great list although I haven't tackled any of it yet! I usually try to spread a bit of compost this time of year just to reduce the work load in the spring! It is also a good time to lime and fertilize the lawn if you need to do that and it also benefits from compost but then your lawn is THE lawn. I remember those emerald green swaths pictured this past spring!

  7. The best thing about your tips is knowing that they are backed by experience, and not parroted from one reference book to another. Like LostRoses, I might not get them all done myself, but I'd like to.

  8. Rusty in Miami... Indeed, before the snow flies, we have quite a bit to do, depending on the size of the garden.

    Meems... Yes, there is quite a difference in how we garden here versus what you do in Florida. I'd be lost as to what to do if I was in Florida.

    Carolyn Gail... I agree, coleus can be brought in, and I've seen a few gardeners bring a small impatien or two inside, too.

    LostRoses... I should adopt more of your attitude sometimes. Tip no. 11, in your honor, is now officially, 'wait until spring'.

    Tyra in Vaxholm... I hope you had a nice day in your garden and got a lot done.

    Layanee... Yes, indeed, I also try to empty the compost bins in the fall and spread compost around on various garden beds. But, I'm waiting for the yellow jackets living in or near the compost bins to give it up for the season before I do that.

    Kathy... What a nice comment! Truth be told, I won't get everything done either.

    Thanks all for the comments,
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  9. Carol, Thanks for the great tips. I started clean-up but the weather has been so nice, I've been lazy. This is my first year with large ceramic containers full of dirt and I was dreading dumping the dirt so I like your tip about just skimming off the top layer.


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