Five questions to ask about your garden this fall

A bit of floral flotsam
As I stand in the garden, leaning on a hoe, surveying the remains of summer, I turn introspective, as most gardeners do this time of year.

Here are five questions I ask myself.

Did I like all the vegetables I grew in the garden?

In the fall, I make a list of the vegetable varieties I want to grow again and tuck the list somewhere inside where I am sure to find it when it is time to order seeds.

Then when it is time find the list and order seeds, I go through the house, room by room, looking for it. Along the way I find I am cleaning up a lot of piles of lists, bills, receipts, etc. before I find the list of vegetable varieties I want to grow again.  So the list really serves two purposes. It's both a cleaning aid and a reminder of seeds to order again.

Do I want to see a particular bloom all over the garden?

If the answer is yes, I let the self-sowing thugs keep their seed heads through the winter, knowing in the spring their seedlings will be coming up all over and throughout the garden.  If no, then I go out with my pruners and cut them back. Don't judge me, but if a particular perennial, and you know which ones they are in your garden, is really a prolific self-sower, I'll bag the seeds up and put them in the trash. Hey, I asked you not to judge me for that. My compost pile never gets hot enough to kill off seeds, so I also toss out weeds that have gone to seed.

By the way, I always let columbine self-sow. They are easy to knick out in the spring if they happen to land and germinate where I don't want them and they fit nicely in between a lot of other perennials.

Where is a good place for a new flower border or vegetable garden?

I remind myself that fall is the best time to dig up a new planting area, whether for flowers or vegetables.  Or if you prefer to save your back, you can layer on cardboard, leaf mulch, newspapers, leaf mulch, whatever will decompose by spring.  Then in the spring, you've got a new bed ready to plant.  If you really prefer digging, you should still add some compost or mulch to decompose over the winter and make the ground that much rich for planting.

I've never regretted having a new border to plant in the spring, when there are so many plants in the garden centers begging me to take them home with me.  

I also look around in the fall to see if there is a spot or two in the garden where I should plant a tree or shrub. Fall really is the best time to plant trees and most shrubs.

Will there be enough flowers in my garden in early spring?

The answer is rarely yes, so every fall I figure out how many new flowers I want to see in the garden in the spring and then I buy and plant bulbs for crocuses, tulips, daffodils, whatever strikes my fancy in the catalogs, online, and even in the big box stores where I buy groceries. When spring comes, I've never regretted the time spent planting bulbs in the fall.

Truthfully, I don't really figure out how many new flowers I want to see in the garden, as though it is some kind of math calculation.  I just figure I want to see lots of new flowers and buy bulbs accordingly.

And finally, how do I want to find the garden in the spring?

I usually want to find the garden ready for planting in the spring, ready for me to enjoy the flowers, and not ready for me to do a massive clean up.  So I take the time in the fall to cut back perennials, weed out flower borders and otherwise tidy up, following a fall clean up list I made up for myself last year.  It calls for a little bit of work now, but cleaning up the garden in the fall makes a big difference in the joy I get from my garden in the spring.

Trust me, I've done it both ways.

Now, go ask yourself these five questions, and get busy in the garden!


  1. Good questions and answers. I will be doing more fall/winter cleanup this year. Oh, how I wish we could layer on compost and such to create a new garden bed. The Bermuda grass wouldn't snuff out here. Instead, it would thrive and bully us even more next year. What all will you do this winter when there is no gardening to do?~~Dee

  2. I have begun my Fall cleanup. I love verbena bonariensis, so I leave them to self sow. I also leave my coneflowers. Their seeds do not cause a problem, in fact, I wish they would. I left my Kansas Gay feather one year, and I had a mess the next spring, so I cut them down, along with the black eyed susans. White allysum is another favorite , so I leave it, also. It just blooms it's little heart out all summmer and fall, until frost.
    I don't grow many veggies, but always choose heirloom tomato plants, to grow.

  3. Dear Carol, I have started to plant a few thousant tulips. So yes, there will be enough flowers in spring. Groetjes, Hetty

  4. It's spring - supposedly - here. I try to wait till autumn to do a big cleanup but tend to do it as I go, when plants die back and are virtually telling me to do something!


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