Fall Garden Tasks
Fall Garden Clean-Up
Putting the Garden to Bed
Some gardeners are fortunate enough to live in a climate that has a year-round growing season. Most of us, however, live in an environment that experiences some degree of winter and a cessation of plant growth.
Preparing your garden for the winter season is important, as it lays the foundation for next spring's growth. Trimming back fading perennials, clearing out weeds, and performing other vital garden tasks will make your gardens healthier when the growing season resumes.
Most autumn garden chores do not have to be performed all at once. Some perennials add interest to the garden late into the fall season, so they may not be cut back until the first snowfall arrives. Weeding and mulching are much more pleasant tasks when the weather is mild, so these should be done in early fall.
Weed Gardens in the FallClick thumbnail to view full-size
Clean Out Flower and Vegetable Beds
Over the spring and summer, debris slowly accumulates in the garden beds. Fallen leaves, decaying plant material, sticks, and other items blown in by the wind can make garden beds very untidy. Use a small rake and pull out leaves and other debris from the garden beds.
Weeding is another important task for fall. Don't leave weeds in the ground, as they will come back with vigor next spring. Pull out all visible weeds, taking care to get the entire root. Some weeds (like thistles) are extremely difficult to eradicate. Pull these out so they don't have a chance to flower and set seed next spring.
Check your vegetable gardens and harvest any crops before the first frost.
Cut Back Perennials
Cut Back Perennials
Most perennials need to be cut back in the fall. Plants like daylilies will have a mat of dead leaves surrounding the plant. If these are not cut back now, the plant will have to grow through them in the spring. The decaying, brown leaves look unsightly and should be cut back to a couple of inches from the ground.
Some plants should not be cut back in the fall. Plants like Butterfly Bush (buddleia) should not be pruned until spring. Know your plants and the recommended pruning times, as some plants will only flower on new growth after a spring pruning.
Echnicea (cone flower), Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), and sunflowers are often not cut back in the fall, as they provide seeds for the local bird population. These flowers can also add a structural interest to the garden, so it is not necessary to cut them back until the spring.
Spread Compost and Mulch in the Fall
Add Compost and Mulch
Fertlizing plants in autumn helps the plants to develop strong root systems. Since the plants are not putting energy into flower development, the extra nutrition is used by the plant to strengthen the roots. Use a good compost mixture (the "black gold" of any gardener's arsenal) and work it into the soil.
Loosening the soil when adding compost performs another garden task: grubs and other garden pests are revealed. Throw these out of the garden and leave them exposed: the birds will get an extra snack and your garden will have fewer pests next spring!
Apply a 3" to 4" layer of mulch on your garden beds. The mulch helps retain moisture, prevents future weed growth, and helps insulate the plants from temperature extremes. There are many different mulch varieties on the market—bark mulch is often inexpensive and will cover a garden bed quickly.
Collect and Save Seeds
The seeds from many plants may be collected and stored over the winter—simply plant them in the spring for fresh, new garden plants! The marigolds in the pictured flower beds were all grown from seeds collected the previous year.
Store seeds in a marked envelope and keep them in a cool, dry location until planting season arrives again.
Save Seeds for Spring Planting
Wrap Evergreens in Snowy Environments
Some evergreens may be split by heavy snowfall. In these environments, wrapping the bush or tree with burlap will spare damage from snow packs or snow sliding off the roof. Simply wrap each evergreen in burlap and secure with twine at regular intervals. Perform this task just before the first snowfall is expected. Remove the burlap in the spring, after the danger of heavy snowfall is past.
How to Clean Garden Tools
Clean and Store Garden Tools
- Clean all garden tools with soap and water. Remove all traces of dirt, plant material, and rust.
- Sharpen pruners and other cutting equipment Sharpen pruning shears with a whetstone, at the same angle as the blade.
- Before putting the garden tools away for the winter, coat the tools in a fine layer of oil (some gardeners use motor oil, others use linseed oil).
One storage idea is to fill a five-gallon bucket with sand, and pour oil into the sand until it is wet. Simply store the garden tools (spades, hand-held rakes and hoes, etc.) in the oily sand over the winter.
Protect Plants from Animals
Deer and other animals become hungry in the winter and will feast on the bark of your trees and will devour rhododendrons and other evergreen garden plants. Place deer fences around trees and use deer netting over plants that may be attacked over the winter season.
Another option is to use a deer repellent like Liquid Fence. This liquid (made from putrefied eggs) does a fantastic job at keeping deer away, but might be difficult to spray in the frozen winter months.
Wrap Trees for Protection from Snow and Deer
How to Divide Perennials
Early fall is an excellent time to divide perennials. It is often rainy in early fall and the plants benefit from the added moisture by putting down strong root systems. Do not divide perennials late into the fall season, however, as frosty weather and transplant shock may be damaging to your plants. Peonies, in particular, do best when divided in the autumn.
Any perennial that shows less growth in the center, becomes overcrowded, or hasn't been divided in two years needs to be divided. This is an inexpensive way to get more plants for your garden!
Plant Spring Bulbs
Plant daffodils, crocus, and other spring bulbs in autumn to see a burst of color next spring. Summer-blooming bulbs like lilies may also be planted in the fall. These bulbs will have better blooms if planted in the fall (as opposed to the typical spring-time planting) because they will have had more time to establish in the ground.
Recycling in the Garden
Start a Compost Pile
The amount of debris pulled out of the garden during the autumn clean-up is perfect for a compost pile. If you don't have one, start one now. A three-sided square pit made of hay bales or chicken wire is sufficient. Take care not to throw weeds into the compost pile, however, as the seeds will remain and sprout next spring. Those who live in areas frequented by wildlife may want to invest in a system with a lid, to keep deer and bears out.
Turn the compost at regular intervals, and the pile will keep itself warm throughout the winter months with the heat created by decay. In the spring, you will have a fine pile of compost to spread on vegetable gardens and flower beds.
Fall Garden Chore Poll
What is your least favorite fall garden chore?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.