Fall Cleanup in the Garden

ChiloquinNews article 10/3/2011

If a plant has seed heads that will add interest to a snowy landscape, then I let them stand.

After an extended summer, with only a couple of frosts all through September and no hard freezes at all, the forecast finally has rain in it, though still no really hard freezes.  Hopefully it will allow some of the fruit in my yard that is still quite green, to ripen up. The rain though, signals the chance for gardeners to take care of business out in the yard.

If you have any plants that you planted in the wrong place – and it always seems like there are some that end up there – then now is the time to move them, when the weather is cooler and the rain will settle them into their new space. Fall is a good time to do this because the soil is still warm from the summer and will encourage the roots to grow, and it’s the roots we need to think about when moving a plant. If the roots don’t get a chance to put on some growth before the freezing weather sets in and the soil cools down, then the plant will not thrive. That means you can’t put it off. You have to do it now. It’s also a great time to transplant seedlings, for the same reason. You can wait until spring to do all of this, but you will need to time that perfectly too. In spring, the soil is cold, so you need to wait until it warms a bit but still with cool weather and rain expected. If you move plants too early in the spring and the soil has not yet warmed and a late freeze comes along, it’s likely you’ll lose them. If you move them too late in the spring, and the hot weather hits and the soil dries out, then again, it’s likely you’ll lose them.

In my wildflower garden, I just run the weed whacker through and cut it all down.

In the vegetable garden, potatoes and carrots can be dug at any time now, and all the finished vegetables (peas, beans etc.) can be removed and added to the compost, if free of disease. I like to add compost to the beds now, so that it’s one more thing I don’t have to think about in spring, when the new weeds springing out of the ground take up 80% of my attention. I just pile the compost on top of the beds, and don’t dig it in. After reading Lee Reich’s book “Weedless Gardening” several years ago, I’ve giving up intensive digging of vegetable beds.

This is also the time to start cutting back the dead annuals and at least some of the perennials. It’s a good idea to get the dead stems out of the garden before the snow hits. Those stems will rot in the cold wet weather and make the job of finding weeds next spring all the harder. They also give a place for insect (and other) pests to hide out for the winter, ready to attack your plants again in the spring. If a plant has seed heads that will add interest to a snowy landscape, or that will feed the birds when food becomes scarce, then I let them stand, but all those leaves that will just mat down and turn into a soggy mess, are better removed.

There’s something quite satisfying about looking around a neatly ‘put to bed’ garden in the late fall.

 In my wildflower garden, I just run the weed whacker through and cut it all down. The very best thing to do would be to burn it off, but I don’t like to put so much smoke into the air that we all have to breathe.

There’s something quite satisfying about looking around a neatly ‘put to bed’ garden in the late fall. So hop to it – no more procrastinating – and enjoy. 

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