Who's Behind in Their Garden Clean Up? Five Lessons for Fall

Are you feeling a bit behind in your fall garden clean up work? Do you think that you just can’t get it all done before the snow flies, or the rains come, or whatever happens in your neck of the woods to signal the end of fall and the beginning of winter?

Is there a sense of panic starting to overtake you every time you look around your garden and see all that you still need to do to get the gardens ready for winter?

Did seeing how Bev and Lost Roses woke up yesterday to snow on the ground in Colorado nearly send you over the edge, or send you out to the garden trying to get more cleaned up?

I have to admit that yesterday when I was outside, even though it was sunny and 79 degrees, I felt this sense of being behind in fall clean up. That feeling was slowly creeping up on me as I saw leaves still on the trees, tomatoes and peppers still growing in the garden and not a single perennial cut back or annual pulled out or container emptied. Something whispered in my ear, “You’re behind, you’re behind, winter is coming, have you bought that new snow blower yet?”

You know what I did to silence that little voice? No, I didn’t clean up the entire garden in one day and then go buy a new snow blower. But that’s a good guess.

I looked in my garden journal to see when I did the garden clean up in past years.

Here’s what I found:

2001 – Most of the big fall clean up, emptying the containers and putting away the garden ornaments, was done on November 4th.
2002 – November 3rd was a big clean up day, though it appears I did a lot of vegetable garden clean up on October 27th.
2003 – I was early that year, doing a lot of clean up on October 30th.
2004 – I split up the container clean up and garden ornament stowing between two days, October 30th and November 6th. That could be an indication that I had increased the numbers of those so it was no longer possible to do it all in one day.
2005 – Isn’t this fascinating information? I cleaned up the containers on October 29th, what an early bird I was that year, but I finished it up on November 4th.
2006 – Last year I once again split the container clean up/garden ornament stowaway between two days, October 28th and November 4th.

In all years, I was still trimming up and cutting back perennials and finishing up the vegetable garden clean up well into November.

Whew! Now I am all relaxed, whistling and humming along, because I AM NOT BEHIND.

Do you still feel like you're behind? What useful information can you get from this look back through my garden journal?

Here are five lessons I've learned about cleaning up the garden in the fall.

1. Find your own pace and rhythm for your garden. Just because it snowed in Colorado or someone posted triumphantly on their blog that they finished getting ready for winter in their garden doesn't mean garden clean up needs to be done in your garden.

2. Don’t try to get all the clean up done at once. As your garden grows, it is likely that what once took a day, may take two days or longer.

3. Keep your own garden journal/records, unique to your garden. Sometimes the information is useless; other times, it’s a good reminder of what works in your garden and when you generally do most tasks.

4. Relax and enjoy the fall season. Enjoy the process of garden clean up, the process of creating that clean slate for next year’s garden.

5. Don’t clean up the garden too soon, or you’ll miss late bloomers and rebloomers, like the clematis above, blooming yesterday in my sister’s garden.

Now do you still feel like you are behind?


  1. I was wondering what kind of garden ornaments you need to stow away for winter and why -- is it cold, or gale-force winds, that might damage them?

  2. Behind in cleaning up? I figure that as long as I'm finished by spring, I am on time!!!

    But really, the best part about not being too hasty is that if you clean up too early you will miss the extra produce, herbs and flowers. We have all winter long to miss them. Why hasten them along before they are ready to give up?

    --Robin (Bumblebee)

  3. I keep a garden journal as well and find it helpful in many ways....first and last frost dates, winter sowing records, lists of plants I want to grow next year, etc.
    We have not had frost yet and the forecast looks like another week of frost free nights, so I am enjoying the last days of fall. I have flowers still bravely blooming and we're still eating red tomatoes and green beans and peppers from the garden!

  4. An intelligent, sensible post, Carol, and one we ought to all take to heart. it does all get done, and what doesn't get done isn't the end of the world, is it? (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

  5. Carol: Thanks for that good advice and now I am less panicked! I was feeling way behind and although I may be as I have no journal to check I still feel better so thanks!

  6. This is the time of year I'm trying to harvest the end of the veggies and also get winter crops in the ground. It's always a tight squeeze to not pull too soon but get things started before it's too cold to germinate. I tried to squeeze in beets, carrots and peas and since the tomatoes were still there i didn't get the seeds covered with screen and the sparrows who have started to show up made short work of the seedlings. I seem to do this every year...always hopeful they won't notice :)

  7. I've accomplished a lot, but have quite a bit more to do. The thing that has me most concerned is the mulching. I'm not sure when I'll get that finished. So much to do, so little time.

    It is so good to know that according to your records, I have a little time left to get things done.

  8. You were wise to check your records, Carol - and stay calm!

    We still do fall cleanup in Austin including leaf raking, bringing in some tender plants, and replacing tender annuals like impatiens with pansies and snapdragons for winter.

    Carol, I guess you're putting away the decor so freeze-and-thaw cycles don't cause it to crack and fall apart? Or is it because the summery stuff will look goofy in snow??

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. Cleaning up in the the garden takes such a long time, I've been doing it for weeks!....and I promise myself (and I've done that before :) Next year I'm not going to plant +300 pots! Carol, I'm in your team now the 'calm and orginized'/lol Tyra in Vaxholm

  10. I'm glad you're more relaxed now Carol! I don't panick about cleaning up my garden for winter because I do not clean my garden for winter. I plant a few more bulbs, rake the leaves off the grass and move them to my borders, put pansies and such in the pots that can stay outside and move the pots with tender plants indoors and that's it.

  11. I don't get too excited about fall clean up until there is frost on the pumpkin. You have written a very good lesson regarding fall chores.

    I have already moved the plants that I want to over winter up by the house so they can get used to the lower light that they will have when I bring them in.

    It seems I panic more during spring/early summer because I want the garden to be nice and neat befroe it get hot.

  12. I do feel better about my fall cleanup, after hearing your thoughts. I just hate to be out there in lousy weather, slugging it out in the wet and cold.

  13. Carol, this is helpful info -- I'm also interested to note how similar your dates are, considering how different the weather patterns have been each year. Maybe they're not as weird as we all seem to think!

  14. Chookie, like Annie commented, it is mostly the freezing and thawing (and ice and snow) that destroys some garden ornaments.

    Robin (Bumblebee), I agree, take your time, the longer you wait the more likely you are to find a few surprises still in the garden.

    Connie, it sounds like it is still the middle of summer in your garden.

    Jodi, Thanks! And every year something doesn't get put up or pulled out like we'd like, but winter still happens, spring still comes.

    Layanee, I'm happy you are feeling better about what you haven't done yet in your garden. You ought to keep a garden journal!

    Leslie, Too funny, I always plant hoping the rabbits won't notice, year after year, and they always notice.

    Robin's Nesting Place, Yes, we still have some time, a month or more, perhaps.

    Annie, Yes, it is the freezing and thawing that wreaks havoc with some garden ornaments. And I suppose some of them would look goofy in the wintertime if left out.

    Tyra in valholm, 300 pots! No wonder you have a lot to do. That's an incredible number of containers.

    Yolanda Elizabet, sounds like you've got a good plan there, and just do what you have to do. But you don't get snow and ice much do you?

    Lisa at Greenbow, Yes, spring panic is quite another thing!

    Muum, I agree, when the weather is lousy, clean up is hard to do outside.

    Genie, Yes, my records indicate that maybe the weather changes are quite as dramatic as we might think. Some of the records we broke for heat were over a hundred years old.

    Thanks all for the comments and kind words!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  15. I'm in pretty good shape - the biggest thing I need to tackle now is the weeds that are springing up in all the newly turned earth. The unseasonably warm weather and the record breaking rainfall this fall has the plants thinking it is spring.

    I got several bags of cocoa mulch for a dollar they are wet and rotting - wonderful amendment material.

  16. Your timeline wasn't boring at all. Since you're about 1-2 weeks ahead of me, I should probably get my keister out to the garden this weekend. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. I just keep plugging along. And whenever I start to obsess, I remind myself that out in the wet wild woods (to cop a phrase from Kipling) which I love to walk through and find beautiful, there is no such thing as garden cleanup.


Post a Comment

Comments are to a blog what flowers are to a garden. Sow your thoughts here and may all your comments multiply as blooms in your garden.

Though there is never enough time to respond to each comment individually these days, please know that I do read and love each one and will try to reciprocate on your blog.

By the way, if you are leaving a comment just so you can include a link to your business site, the garden fairies will find it and compost it!