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Fall Garden Tasks

Leah Lefler enjoys adventures with her family and frequently camps with her two sons.

Fall Garden Clean-Up

Fall garden chores will help your garden grow beautifully next spring.

Fall garden chores will help your garden grow beautifully next spring.

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.

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 like daylilies in the fall. This will lessen the amount of garden clean-up required in the spring.

Cut back perennials like daylilies in the fall. This will lessen the amount of garden clean-up required in the spring.

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

A thick layer of bark mulch will discourage weed growth next spring.

A thick layer of bark mulch will discourage weed growth next spring.

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

These marigolds were grown from seeds saved from the previous year's garden.

These marigolds were grown from seeds saved from the previous year's garden.

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

Wrap evergreens with burlap and twine to protect the plants from getting damaged by a heavy snow pack. This wrap also protects evergreens from hungry deer.

Wrap evergreens with burlap and twine to protect the plants from getting damaged by a heavy snow pack. This wrap also protects evergreens from hungry deer.

How to Divide Perennials

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

A pile of leaves pulled from the garden - this pile will become rich compost by late spring.

A pile of leaves pulled from the garden - this pile will become rich compost by late spring.

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

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.

Comments

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 10, 2012:

I still have a few tasks to do, rbm, but thankfully I'm almost done with all of our garden clean-up! I still haven't wrapped our evergreens in burlap, and I have a few hostas to cut back now that we've had the killing frost. Good luck with your yard work!

rbm on October 10, 2012:

Fall is definitely here, and winter not far away either. We're getting ready to tackle most of those tasks. Good hub and good suggestions. Voted up and useful.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 10, 2012:

I do like the seasonal change, greatstuff. Winter can become extremely long - the lack of sun and the unending snow is difficult after about 3 months (our winters can last for almost six months), but the fall and the spring are gorgeous! I miss being able to grow tropical flowers, but autumn is certainly gorgeous!

Mazlan from Malaysia on October 10, 2012:

Congrats on HOTD. We always think the grass is greener on the other side - coming from a tropical country where, as you said it, that has a year-round growing season' can be boring. The seasonal change is more fun and visually interesting. I did not know that you have to wrap evergreen, to protect from the weather and deer! Interesting but can also be a chore. Wow, there are many responsibilities to have a garden! Great work.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 10, 2012:

Thank you, J.S. Matthew. We live in the Great Lakes region and get a lot of snowfall, but fortunately have moderated temperatures due to the presence of the lakes. We are zone 5, though I can get away with some zone 6 plants - a little work in the fall saves a lot of work in the spring!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 10, 2012:

It is hard to know what tasks need to be performed at what times, SmalltownGirl! Peonies do best when divided in the fall, but some types of clematis can ONLY be pruned in the spring! Fortunately, most of my plants can be divided or pruned at any time of the growing season.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on October 09, 2012:

Wow this is a really good Hub! Congrats on the Hub of the Day! Well deserved. As a New Englander, these tips are very useful to maintain a healthy garden year round. Voting up and sharing.

JSMatthew~

SmalltownGirl512 from central Florida on October 09, 2012:

Great and useful information! I never know what to do when. This helps a lot!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

We didn't use to wrap our evergreens, Farmer Rachel, and one year a snow pack split a beautiful shrub in half. It was so damaged we had to remove it in the spring. Now we make sure all of our conical evergreens are wrapped, in addition to anything under the eaves where the falling snow pack can do some serious damage! The deer prevention is an added bonus.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Yes, winter is coming soon, jpcmc! It is time to get all the fall chores done now, if they haven't been done already!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Thanks, Victoria Lynn! I always dread the big clean out at the end of the growing season. I should probably weed constantly, but it often gets away from me and I have a big job at the end of September!

Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota on October 09, 2012:

Great hub! This info will be useful to lots of gardeners, I'm sure, especially the part about wrapping the evergreens - I hadn't heard that one before. Congrats on HOTD, well-deserved :)

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on October 09, 2012:

So many things to do. But it's essential that we get to start ASAP.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on October 09, 2012:

Great info. I need to do some of that. I dread it, though. Thanks for the reminder. Nice hub, and congrats on HOTD!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Armchair Builder, pulling weeds is my least favorite chore, too. I'm not a big fan of getting the leaves out of the shrubs, either. I LOVE my gardens, but I'm not a huge fan of all the work it takes to get them looking so beautiful!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

MarleneB, the Liquid Fence really works. The only bad thing is it smells AWFUL. It is made from putrified eggs - if you decide to use it, pretend that you don't know how to use the sprayer and con your husband into doing it. There's another product called Deer Out and it smells like peppermint - I haven't tried it yet so I can't vouch for its efficacy. But the Liquid Fence works like a charm. You can get it online or from a store like Home Depot or Tractor Supply.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

StephanieBCrosby, I might have considered coming over to winterize your yard... if I hadn't just finished my own! Oh, it is a lot of work to clean out those beds! I have to say, though, it does get easier as the kids get older. My six year old will fill his Tonka truck with weeds and help me clear everything out of the yard.

Michael Luckado from Hawaii on October 09, 2012:

Pulling weeds was my answer...although I hate raking leaves out of the shrubs. Thanks for sharing.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on October 09, 2012:

This is a handy reference guide for getting the garden ready for spring. I enjoyed all the tips. I was especially interested in reading the information about the liquid fence. I've never heard of that and will now look into it, because every time my husband and I drive out to our retirement property, the deer are all over the place. I was wondering how I would keep them from my plants because it looks like they can jump right over regular fences. Thank you for all of the tips and now after watching the video I know how to divide my perennials.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on October 09, 2012:

This is a really good article for every level of gardener. So, here's my question for you, "Can you come winterize my yard?" I tend to run out of energy when it comes to properly preparing the gardens for the next season or year. Maybe this will change as my kids get older and I have more time to dedicate to gardening. Thanks for all the helpful tips as usual. And congratulations.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

I am glad my work is now done, RTalloni, and hope the guide helps others who are putting their gardens to bed! Thank you!

RTalloni on October 09, 2012:

Such helpful information you've put together for us in an easy to read format. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this great fall gardening guide!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Thank you, Rebeccamealey! I can't believe how quickly autumn arrives every year. I'm already looking forward to the next growing season!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 09, 2012:

This is a wonderful guide for preparing the garden for winter. You covered everything so well. Congratulations!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Sorry that I had to add to your "to-do" list this fall, Shasta! It is definitely a lot of work, but well worth it when the garden is clean in the spring. I am not looking forward to winter, but at least my garden is done!

Shasta Matova from USA on October 09, 2012:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day, Leah. I hesitated reading this because I don't want to add any more to my list of things to do, but these are great tips of the things that need to be done around the yard, and yes, they are on my list now.

Shasta

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

I used to do little flower boxes when we had an apartment in California, watergeek. I had a need to garden, even when we had very little space! It is difficult to garden on a balcony, though - we have an acre now and I cherish every square foot.

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on October 09, 2012:

I miss having a garden. It was a great way to calm myself, get centered, and feel like my house was my own . . . condo, actually. (I wasn't supposed to be gardening, but did.) Congratulations on Hub of the Day, Leah.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

I have never tried to divide a palm tree, ComfortB- I hope it is not too difficult to do! Our daylilies are fairly easy to divide, but the astilbe get quite large and can be difficult. I love dividing them, though, because we have so many "free" plants when the job is done!

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on October 09, 2012:

This is a very informative hub. I've been trying to figure out how to divide and replant my Sago Palms. Found a link through your Youtube video.

I'm glad I don't have to do a lot of weeding anymore since we put in a new rock garden. I do need to go ahead and cut back my lilies, maybe even divide them up for re-planting. Thanks for this hub.

Congrats on the HOTD award! Voted up and useful.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

I love our fall leaves - not the raking, but the jumping into piles! My kids adore autumn, alifeofdesign. This is my favorite time of year, despite the weed-pulling tasks that I despise. We have frost on the lawn and brilliant red leaves as I type - I wish this season would last for months instead of weeks!

Graham Gifford from New Hamphire on October 09, 2012:

Aside from all the leaves we have, I like fall cleanup., it gets me in the mood for morning hikes and apple picking. I enjoyed your hub..

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Thanks, Dirt Farmer! We are able to protect the garden from deer, but protecting it from Golden Retriever is another matter entirely. He likes to "help" with our garden chores!

Jill Spencer from United States on October 09, 2012:

Congrats on HOTD! Really helpful article with all the essentials! (And one cute dog, too!) --Jill

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Planting bulbs is probably my favorite garden task. Very little work for a nice, colorful surprise in the fall! I hope you get to plant a lot of bulbs this spring, Cathy Fidelibus!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

The gardening tasks will definitely vary by region, pstraubie48! We have a great deal of work in the spring and fall with our heavy snowfalls, but the work in Florida is probably more constant, since your growing season is year-round! The deer can certainly be pesky - we use a combination of physical barriers (like burlap) and all-natural deterrents (Liquid Fence - smells awful but is extremely effective)!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 09, 2012:

Eiddwen, I absolutely love gardening, too. I spend a great deal of time looking at seed catalogs over the winter months! I am rather sad that our gardening time of year is coming to a close!

Ms. Immortal from NJ on October 09, 2012:

Thanks for the reminder, so many things to do. I do not want to forget to plant bubs in the front yard this year :0)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 09, 2012:

Fall is such a lovely time of the year. It is not really too fallish here in FL but the weather has cooled enough so evening working in my yard has not been sweating to the oldies time.

I do some of the things you suggest here like protecting plants from the cold. My friends out in the Ocala National Forest have to address the deer who visit their plants though.

Your helpful suggestions are being bookmarked.

Congratulations on hub of the day too. :)

Eiddwen from Wales on October 09, 2012:

Thank you so much leahlefler I truly loved this hub and I am saving for future referrence. I have many categories saved in word and this one goes into one of my favourite categories (Gardening)

I now look forward to many more by you.

Eddy.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 17, 2012:

Pauline, the Isle of Man has to be absolutely beautiful. Window boxes are so pretty in the summer - I once visited a town with gorgeous boxes on every window. It was stunning! I hope you have a nice fall, especially since your weeding tasks are probably kept to a minimum with the prominence of container gardening!

Pauline Davenport from Isle of Man on September 17, 2012:

This is a lovely hub - it's a bit like the island I live on - everything close to hand and compact. It's really useful, as all the information I would usually get from gardening books ( and I have many) is all here, clearly set out, ready to go.

I live on a beautiful street with no gardens at all, but everyone has hanging baskets and window boxes and tubs - complete strangers, often even coach parties, stop by the street in the summer and take photographs of it in all its glorious bloom. This Hub is brilliant for all of us - thanks again leahlefler for another wonderful hub

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 15, 2012:

Thanks, lindacee! I love gardening - it is so soothing and I love being outside in the sunshine. I think our (extremely) long winters have developed a keen appreciation of sunshine in me! I would miss having a yard, too. I wouldn't miss weeding, though, especially weeding nettles and thistles (my hands are still sore, despite the use of gloves)!

Linda Chechar from Arizona on September 14, 2012:

What a thorough Hub detailing fall garden projects. Wow, I really miss having a yard to putter around in. However, I think when I had a yard, I complained about all the seasonal chores. ;) You know, I never spent the time cleaning my garden tools properly and always kicked myself in the spring when I had to deal with the built up gunk and rust! BTW, your landscaping is beautiful!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 14, 2012:

My boys love to help pulling weeds, too, CassyLu! They put them in their big Tonka dump truck and haul them to the woods. I have a feeling their enthusiasm will fade as they get older, though. I still can't believe fall is really almost here!

CassyLu1981 from Spring Lake, NC on September 14, 2012:

leah - this is an incredible article! I have to do most of these tasks and have been putting it off LOL I've actually gotten my son to enjoy pulling weeds so maybe this weekend him and I will tackle that part (as it is my least favorite to do). Great hub :) Voted up and shared!!!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 14, 2012:

Hi teaches - that is our front door. I love red doors and was very happy when we put this one in - it also has a window, which lets in more light in the winter. I'm originally from Southern California, and the garden upkeep was very different there. The fall chores didn't exist, because the garden never really went to "bed" for the winter. Weeding, unfortunately, is a task that exists in every climate. I bet South Florida is absolutely gorgeous. I really want to see the everglades one day!

Dianna Mendez on September 13, 2012:

Is that your front door? Well, it is just beautiful and reminds me of the door leading to a great adventure! Lovely. We don't have to do these fall garden tasks here in South Florida, but still have tools to clean. Thanks for the share and great tips.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 13, 2012:

I agree, Lipnancy - I love fall, but always dread the winter season. I love November and December, but January through March drag on forever!

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on September 13, 2012:

What wonderful suggestions. But yet it is somewhat sad getting ready for winter. Voted Up and Shared

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 12, 2012:

I love gardening, Om, but not the weeding that comes along with it! We have two major "work" times of the year with our cold climate. The first is in spring, when a major clean-up and planting occurs. The second is fall, where everything has to be cleaned up and "put away." It is a lot of work in those two seasons, but the winter has no work involved. In warmer climates, you have to tend to a garden constantly (with a lower level of work), so it probably evens out in the long run!

Om Paramapoonya on September 12, 2012:

Wow, I never imagined the winter season would come with so many responsibilities! These tips are really great, Leah. As a child, I used to live in a house with a big flower garden (it was a perennial garden, though). Now I miss having a garden quite a bit, yet at the same time, I also feel grateful for not having to do all these gardening chores.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 12, 2012:

Your Cousins, the planting season can vary by region. Some bulbs require a significant period of "chill" to perform well, so if you don't have cold enough weather for daffodils, etc. you can try putting them in the refrigerator for a few weeks before planting. I live in rural New York and we must plant our bulbs in the fall, because the ground is frozen and under three feet of snow in the winter!

Your Cousins from Atlanta, GA on September 12, 2012:

Thanks for the hub. I have always planted my spring bulbs in the winter, but some of them don't produce on schedule. I will try your advice and plant them in the fall this year. Wish me luck. Voted up and awesome.