Fall Garden Cleanup

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Fall Cleanup

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Our Garden "Gangsters" know that one of the tricks to successful gardening is a good, thorough fall cleanup.  You can make the basic cleanup chores happen gradually and naturally by giving your garden the once-over every week.  

As you spot plants that have stopped blooming or are killed by the cold, pull them up.  This saves your poor aching back the huge effort later, and keeps your garden looking presentable.  

Doing bits of work as you spot a problem also provides you with the opportunity to see where you need some fall interest and to get any transplanting done as you clear the areas.  

A real God-send can be a mulching mower.  This baby makes the lawn looked like you've just vacuumed it despite the number of leaves, and it puts the leaves and clippings back into your lawn to slowly compost.  

Not raking saves you time and money too - as you may find that you only need to fertilize your lawn once a year with this extra gradual feeding that mulching mowers provide.  So without further ado, here are OGG's fall cleanup tips. 

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General Planning and Preparation

  • bulbs.jpg (175x109 -- 4653 bytes)Lift tender bulbs, dry in a cool, dark and airy place.  Store in a breathable container in dry peat moss in a very cool, dark spot.

  • Stake young trees to prevent wind damage.

  • Install mouse/rabbit guards around trunks of young trees. Install wire mesh guards of hardware cloth or chicken wire for your fruit trees and rose bushes.  Rabbits can girdle the trees and browse rose  canes to the graft union.

  • Wrap young tree trunks to prevent sunscald and splitting.

  • After the first hard freeze, spray with anti-desiccant and/or wrap evergreens like Douglas Fir, rhodos, azaleas and magnolias with burlap or other protective fabric.  This is also the time to winterize roses.

  • Set up your cold frame now.  It won't be as easy in late winter when you will need it.

  • Put up additional feeders and add a heater to a bird bath to accommodate the birds' winter needs. See Birds Articles.

  • Before the first frost warning, dig parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, etc. root veggies for the table and for cool storage.

  • At news of an overnight frost warning, pick all tomatoes, peppers, squash and other veggies and store in a cool dark location.

  • Tomatoes can be ripened in sealed heavy-duty paper shopping bags, with a sheet of newspaper between the layers, stored in a cool dark place.   Check them every few days to remove ripe ones, and reseal the bag.

  • veggie_garden.jpg (175x113 -- 3886 bytes)Pull the pumps from your garden pond.  Drain and clean for winter storage.  See Winterizing Ponds.

  • Unless your garden pond is deep enough for your fish to winter there safely, remove them to an indoor tank.  Bring plants that are not winter- hardy indoors to tubs or tanks.  See Pond Maintenance.

  • Sift finished compost to gain space in the compost box for later additions.

  • Completely clear the garden of weeds before they drop their seeds and create a problem for next year.

  • Store pesticides in a cool, dry, safe place.  Check expiration dates.  Note for disposal any that will be over-age by spring.

  • Be sure your windows and doors seal well.  Lady Bugs, spiders, moths, and Box Elder bugs will find openings to come inside to escape the cold.

  • Spread manure or compost on the garden.  You can spade it in when the ground thaws in spring.


transplant.jpg (90x93 -- 2477 bytes) Plant spring bulbs and lilies before ground freezes.  See Turn Your Garden On With Bulbs.

Divide and replant perennials before ground freezes.

Transplant summer and fall blooming shrubs before the ground freezes.

Pruning and Fertilizing

  • pruning.jpg (175x106 -- 3706 bytes)Prune shrub roses when they go dormant.

  • If not done last month, cut perennials back to 3 to 4 inches.

  • Fertilize spring bulbs and lilies when planting.

  • Pull annuals when plants cease blooming or are dead from frost.

  • Spread compost or other organic matter over garden.

Chores and Maintenance

  • When soil freezes, mulch trees and plants to prevent frost heaving.

  • If necessary, water newly planted ground covers until soil freezes.

  • claypots.jpg (150x94 -- 2808 bytes)Clean up plant debris from beds and borders (before mulching!)

  • Empty clay pots, bring indoors for winter to avoid cracking.  Add container contents to compost pile when frost kills plants.

  • Update your plant performance records.

  • Take down stakes and trellises to clean and store them for next season.

  • Take down grapevines and climbing roses, lay on the ground and mulch before ground freezes ( especially north of zone 6).  See Winterizing Roses for more information.

Bring Your Plants Indoors

Don't you feel sorry for people who do not have four seasons!?  They don't get the joy of cleaning up and winterizing gardens against snow, cold and wind?  They also don't get the fun (and it is growlights.jpg (175x109 -- 4620 bytes) fun) of bringing plants indoors for the winter.  But because you are reading this, you most likely get that pleasure.  So, you want to do it right!

There are a few things you need to consider and do before cold weather arrives.  "Before" is the important word, because an early, unexpected frost can kill your plans as sure as it will kill your plants.

Consider purchasing fluorescent "shop lights" and a 2-4 tier plant stand.  The lights can be suspended from the stand or from the ceiling with metal or plastic "chain link" which allows you to adjust the height to keep it 2-4" from the tops of your plants.  Basements are an ideal location for such a set-up because they tend to be cooler and moister than the rest of the house.  This is also great for starting seeds in late winter/early spring!  See more information in Indoor Gardening and Houseplant Helper.

Select Suitable Plants

There are a couple of things you need to consider in selecting plants rosemaryplants.jpg (150x112 -- 2961 bytes) to bring indoors.  First and foremost is whether the plant is suitable for your indoor climate.  An indoor climate gets much less sunlight, so plants that thrive in full or partial shade are good candidates.

They must also be small enough to fit into your pot or container and the root system must be comfortable in that contained area.  They must also be tolerant of the warmer and usually drier weather that exists in your home during much of the winter.

Also consider the habits of the plant - for example, impatiens are a poor candidate for indoor culture because of their moisture requirements and the messy leaf and petal drop.

Check for Diseases and Bugs

nobugs1.gif (125x110 -- 8499 bytes)It is important to select healthy plants.  The first sign of a healthy plant is vigorous growth.  Inspect your candidate carefully.   Make sure there are no insects on the plant or in the soil.  Are there holes in the leaves that suggest insects chewing on the plant?  In checking for disease, the most obvious sign is slow growth, wilting leaves and visible signs like powdery mildew.

If your plant is diseased, look for another candidate.  If insects are present, either eliminate them, or find other plant.

Minor infestations may be taken care of with a soil drench and thorough spraying or "dip" in an insecticidal soap mix.  Check out the Plant Problems articles on fungus and critter problems for more information on treating affected plants.

Select Proper Pots

pots.jpg (100x137 -- 3354 bytes)Selecting the right pots is primarily a matter of taste.  But, you should also select containers that are large enough for the root system of your plant now and through the winter months.

You should also select pots with drainage holes in the bottom of the pot or container.  Some pots do not have drainage holes.  Many a plant is drowned by too much watering and no place for excess water to go.  A good pot has drainage holes and a small dish underneath to capture any excess water that seeps out.  I save my take-out food aluminum containers for use as saucers.

Do not let plants sit for more than half an hour with water in the saucer.  Drain anything that is left after that time.  Your plant will thank you for it!

Repotting and Pruning

After you have selected your plant, give it a pruning into the shape you want.  Don't be houseplants.jpg (175x121 -- 5954 bytes) shy.  A good trim will help the plant to  growth.  This is particularly important for such plants as Mandevilla and fuschia.

Use good, quality, sterile potting soil and center your plant in the pot.  Spread out the roots and make sure that they are completely covered with soil.  Gently, firm down the soil.  Water thoroughly, but gently, using a light solution of liquid fertilizer.  Add more soil if holes or low spots occur as the soil settles.  See Container Potting and Repotting for more information.

Your plant is now tucked cozily into it's new home and will grow well thanks to your love and attention....this is how you get that "green thumb".

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