Embrace Fall Clean-Up for A Happier Life

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...


  1. LOL! I love the Mitchel quote. It's just perfect. DH and I tend to do lots of planting this time of year as the trees and shrubs go on sale big time here in Oklahoma in October...sometimes 75-80% off! How could I possibly resist that?

  2. I was embracing fall clean-up when the a cold front came in and blew compost all over the place. Mother Nature is still messing with me. Great post. I will be right back at it tomorrow.

  3. You've been doing a lot of embracing lately, with the weeds and the fall clean and what not. ;-) I've been mainly embracing my puppy Tara and doing some bulb planting in between.

  4. I must admit I have been doing a lot of that sitting about. I do need to pull a few weeds. I am waiting for a good soaking rain, which is predicted for this evening so I can be embracing all day tomorrow.

  5. You're just making me feel guilty now. Lots of things to do outside, but inside work is insisting on a higher priority for now. Maybe this weekend I'll finally get out and start clearing up the vegetable beds and raking all those leaves.

  6. Fall cleanup is something I always do with a sigh, because it signals the true end of all blooms, even on my little balcony. But there is something very satisfying about seeing everything tidied up and orderly. And ready for spring, best of all. :)

  7. Fall clean up is definitely happening in a big way. I have over 500 bulbs to plant from my old house. And a ton of limbs to chip and use for mulch. I'm moving the compost pile before winter and hoping to replace my one raised bed with two.
    Hopefully there will be plenty of WOO's soon!
    And yes, my annuals are still blooming in the ground and in containers. I won't get rid of them until there are no more blooms.

  8. Yes, the pots are still blooming and I must take the 3-year-old boxwoods out of their deck pots and find a winter home for them. A pile of mulch still to spread, bulbs to plant and lots of deadheading. Thanks for the pep talk — I will get out there today!

  9. Fall clean-up is the perfect excuse to spend these beautiful fall days outdoors....enjoying the last warm days before Old Man Winter arrives.

  10. I wouldn't say I have been lolling about, but I still have so much to do! I'm hoping that heavy frost waits for awhile so that I can get everything done. I'm glad you said to rake up the thick mats of leaves--I couldn't possibly rake up the whole yard, but I don't let a thick layer sit for the winter and kill the grass, either.
    Your tip on exercise is a good one--I need to get in better shape for gardening for next year!

  11. I have been visiting Fairegardens and have a way back full of plants...there will be planting. I am embracing planting when I get home! Then I will clean up the phlox. I have to do a very thorough removal of spent plants in order to kill off the phlox bug!


  12. Yay! For the delphinium! I think this is excellent fall gardening advice--especially about the exercise. That is one that not enough people consider.

  13. hallelujah, Carol! I love the fall clean-up. I swear it puts an extra spring in my step. It's so satisfying to plant bulbs and whack weeds in the cool autumn air. I hate to admit it but I sometimes think my garden looks better in fall when it's all cleaned up than at any other weedier time of year.

  14. I'm rooting for that delphinium to bloom! C'mon, Del, do your thing!

    I'm still embracing post-hurricane clean-up, and I wouldn't want to be accused of two-timing. So I'll wait a bit on fall clean-up!

  15. Well, maybe those no-clean-up people have all evergreen trees and a bunch of gravel. I like fall clean-up, especially when it's sunny out and not too terribly cold yet. Makes me feel all virtuous and stuff.

  16. I like the fall clean up to.
    I like the sense of tucking the garden up for the winter.
    For me it is the time of year when I am most busy.


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