Advice for Fall Clean-up

Some gardeners are scrupulous about pulling everything out or cutting everything back before winter comes.  Others leave the entire job for spring.  The ideal is probably somewhere in between.

You should pull up and compost all annual flowers and vegetable plants.  As an alternative to adding plant debris to the compost bin, dig big holes in the garden and bury the debris.  By spring the plants will have composted under ground.  Don’t wait until spring to take care of this task as the dried stems won’t compost readily and their nutrients will have dissipated.

Any plant that is diseased or damaged by insects should be disposed of in the garbage rather than the compost bin.  Most compost piles do not get hot enough to kill diseases and insect eggs, allowing the pests to live to re-infest plants next year wherever the compost is spread.

Diseased perennial plants should be cut back to within a few inches of the ground.  Also cut back any plant that will self-seed unless you want volunteer seedlings to grow wherever they land or for transplanting to another spot.

Non-diseased perennials can be left standing over winter to provide landscape interest and food for winter birds.  The seed pods and stalks of native prairie plants are especially pretty in winter and are a valuable food source for birds.

Another reason to leave healthy perennials standing is to catch leaves and snow among the stems.  This will keep soil temperatures more consistent over winter, preventing alternate freezing and thawing that damages roots.

Cut back any plant that looks unappealing, has weak stems that will break with the lightest snow, or has large leaves that will stick together to form an impenetrable mat over the soil.

If you’ve got spare compost, spread it over the soil.  Cover the compost, and any other bare soil, with shredded leaves, grass clippings, pine needles or straw.  Mother Nature doesn’t leave bare soil and neither should you.  Bare soil is subject to erosion from wind and water, sunburn and cracking.  Remove the cover in spring so the soil can dry out and warm up, or just move it aside to set seeds or plants.

Stakes or cages from any plant that was diseased, especially tomatoes, should be thoroughly washed with hot soapy water or wiped down with a mild bleach solution.  The same is true of tools that are used to cut or remove diseased plants.

It’s important to make a last pass through the garden to remove weeds.  Otherwise, they will be there for you next year one way or another.  Perennial weeds will come back as healthy as ever.  Annual weeds will produce seeds and propagate themselves.  Really, take care of it now.

Finally, make some notes about what worked this year and what did not.  Also note plants that need to be moved and ideas for next year and.  Next spring you’ll be glad you did!


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