Fall is the time of year when most gardeners say good-bye to this year’s garden and prepare to create a new version next spring.
Fall garden cleanup can be done in three stages:
1) Review this year’s successes & failures
2) Clean your garden plot and
3) The fun part – start planning for next year.
Only one part is physical, but you’ve plenty to do:
>> raking leaves,
>> removing dead plants,
>> tilling and
>> amending the soil,
but it’s plenty to get us off the couch and outdoors for some exercise.
Step One: Your review starts outside with a walk through your property, observing and recalling the various plants you grew and how they fared this summer.
A gardening journal is a great way to record your observations and notes. Was it a dry year or a wet one? Unusually hot or cool? How much time did you spend tending the garden? What kind of watering schedule and system did you use?
Making careful notes of the successes and failures will help in Step Three and when we decide what to plant next year. A clipboard can help with drawing a map of the plantings,notes on the performance of each plant, and about this year’s weather patterns.
This is also the time to take a good close look at your landscape’s perennials, trees and shrubs. How did they fare? Did they grow evenly? Are they stressed? Look for signs of insect damage or disease in the leaves and branches. Make sure there are no sunken areas (cankers) or bleeding scars and broken branches.
Remove any plants or parts of plants that are diseased or damaged. Dispose of the affected material separately – you don’t want it contaminating your compost or garden.
This gets us into Step Two: cleanup and maintenance.
The physical part and the one that taxes our muscle power. Take the advice of experienced gardeners and be sure to stretch before indulging in unaccustomed physical activity. And, don’t overdo it. When you get tired, rest. The work will still be there tomorrow.
First, remove all the dead annuals and fallen flower heads, dead branches, garden debris and dead leaves.
Prune plants that need it in the fall. Clean up thoroughly, since dead material can harbor disease and pests if left in the garden over the winter. Compost as much of the vegitative material as possible – your garden will thank you next spring and your wallet will too!
If you see signs of insect pests, remove them now. If you find bagworms, don’t just pull the bag off the branch. Take a sharp knife or razor blade and cut through the silken strands that are wrapped around the branch. Left on they will strangle the branch as it grows. Tear open or remove fall webworm nests. Don’t kill the spiders; they help control plant eating pests.
Fall cleanup is not just about removing – it also involves planting: bulbs, perennials and shrubs. Get them in now, so their roots have a chance to get established before the winter.
Speaking of planting, don’t forget your lawn. Fall is the time to dethatch and fill dead spots with a good quality seed, bred for the location and climate.
We’ll wait until after the ground freezes to put in a new covering of mulch – 2 or 3 inches. It makes the garden look nicer and helps maintain an moisture and warmth in the soil.
When mulching, remember to make a donut around the crowns of perennials and trunks of shrubs and trees. If the mulch touches the plant, moisture will accumulate around the bark and soften it (and disease, insects and small mammals like mice & voles will be able to get into the trunk and harm the plants).
Now, on to Step Three: planning next year’s garden.
Using the notes you made as you walked around the property and cleaned up the gardens, now you’ll come up with a strategy for next year’s garden.
Make a sketch and note what worked and what didn’t for each section of the garden. Consider what you want to improve. Look at each garden area and imagine what shapes, colors and textures you want in that area. Jot these ideas down on a sketch of your garden plot.
Now when all those garden catalogs flood your mailbox, instead of just buying on impulse you’ll have a plan for finding the right plants. And next year’s garden will be even more healthy and wonderful than this year’s!