As peak gardening season comes to a close, now is the time to commence fall cleanup in your garden. While your tomato plants and wildflower beds might be on their way out, that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. Preparation for the changing seasons is an essential part of gardening.
Autumn and winter are prime time to get a leg-up on “spring cleaning,” says Angelo Randaci, master gardener at Earth’s Ally. Between picking out stray weeds, spreading fresh mulch, and planting perennials before the first frost, doing the work in the fall sets the foundation for flourishing flowers come spring.
“The main advantage to fall cleanup is it prevents the spread of disease and insect pests from the current season into the next,” Randaci writes on the Earth’s Ally website. “Removing diseased plants, or plants that don’t have any aesthetic interest, is important for the health of next year’s garden.”
Give your flowers, trees, and vegetables everything they need to thrive come spring and summer. Below, tips from a master gardener for how to prep your with fall cleanup.
4 fall cleanup tips for your garden and yard
1. Dig out those weeds
Those weeds you’ve been pretending you haven’t seen all summer? Yeah, it’s time to dig those out. Same goes for any debris, deadfall, or other stuff you don’t want sticking around come spring time.
While aesthetics are incentive for cleaning up, Randaci says insects and invasive weeds are an even bigger concern. “Pests and disease may [survive in] plant debris and make a comeback next year,” he says. “Perennial weeds. like dandelion, ground ivy, and white clover, will remain throughout the winter, so best to remove them now.”
We know weeding isn’t very fun, but it’s better to do it now than later. A pro tip: weed after it rains, when the ground is still moist. The roots will come out easier.
2. Clean off accessories and store them properly
Houseplants and herbs that can migrate indoors should be brought inside. As for any other gardening accessories, like tomato cages, lattices, and plant stakes, they should be stored away, too—just be sure to give them a good cleaning first. This will stop diseases or pests from lingering next season.
“Before storing them, clean off the soil and wash with soapy water,” Randaci says. “Spray plant supports that supported diseased plants with isopropyl alcohol that is 70-100 percent alcohol to kill off any diseases.”
3. Plant your perennials early
Depending on where you live, winter might be a long ways away. In other places, the first frost might have already fallen. Wherever you are, plant perennial bulbs early, preferably before the first frost—Randaci says that this will help them take root before it gets too cold come winter.
Keep in mind that many perennials, like coneflowers and rudbeckias, will stick around when the temperatures drop. “Ornamental grasses will persist all winter long and won’t need cutting back until early spring,” Randaci says. “While most perennials do not need cutting back until spring, remove plant debris from peonies, roses, fruit trees, or any plants showing signs of disease.”
4. Create a compost pile
Didn’t have a compost pile this summer? That’s okay—fall is the perfect time to make one. Especially if you want to give your soil some love and don’t want to spend a ton of money on new mulch, which prevents weeds and cuts down your water bill, homemade compost can be a great way to give your garden a boost.
Need some ideas? Dead leaves, grass clippings, organic food scraps, and most yard waste is all fair game. Randaci says to steer clear of invasive weeds or diseased plants you pull out from your garden—these can end up harming your plants down the pike. Otherwise, safe, organic materials can go right into your composting bin for some rich, homemade mulch come spring that your blooms are guaranteed to love.
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