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 they will have composted under the ground. Don’t wait until spring to take care of this task as the dried stems won’t compost readily and the most of their nutrients will have dissipated.
Any annual 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 where they land or for transplanting to another spot.
Non-diseased perennials can be left standing over winter to provide landscape interest and food for the 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 constant 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.
Before pulling up annuals such as zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, calendula, cleome and dill, make it a point to snip off some of the dried seedheads with a scissors. Spread them on newspaper for a week or so to dry completely. Store them in a paper bag in a cool spot over the winter and you’ll have free seeds for next year. Actually the dill, cleome, calendula and cosmos can be scattered immediately where you want them to grow next year. They will begin growing when the time is right and be one step ahead of the ones you plant in spring.
It’s important to make a last pass through the garden to remove weeds. If you don’t, they will be there for you next year one way or another. Perennial weeds will come back as healthy as ever. Annual weeds will do their best to produce seeds and propagate themselves. Really, take care of it now. Next spring you’ll be glad you did!

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