You Fall Garden Clean Up Check List
By Julie Harris, Master Gardener
The garden growing season may be over but before you put your feet up and sip your hot cider, there are a few things you should do to clean up and prepare your garden for winter. Fall garden clean up provides multiple benefits for both you and your garden. Here are twelve tasks you should consider to tuck your garden in for the winter.
The garden growing season may be over but before you put your feet up and sip your hot cider, there are a few things you should do to clean up and prepare your garden for winter. Fall garden clean up provides multiple benefits for both you and your garden. It can reduce the spread of weeds and disease, reduce insect pests, prevent rodent infestation and, finally – ease your workload in the spring. Here are twelve tasks you should consider to tuck your garden in for the winter.
1. Plant spring bulbs. Yes, you are not thinking about planting this time of year but make an exception for spring bulbs. Just think ahead to April and May when bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus and allium provide the color that you have missed over the winter. Here are previous Garden Buzz articles about planting daffodils and protecting bulbs.
2. Remove and store tender bulbs that you want to replant in the spring, such as: anemone, tuberous begonia, caladium, calla lilies, canna, dahlias and gladiola. See this UMN article for more information about how to do so correctly.
3. Clean your garden but try to do so on sunny dry days in the late morning or afternoon. Pulling plants when the garden is wet can spread disease in the garden. In addition, walking on wet soil can damage the soil structure.
4. Cut back perennials but wait until the plant is no longer green. You may want to leave some plants up through the winter. In the winter months when food is scarce, gardens full of withered fruit and dried seed heads can provide birds with a reliable food source. Seed-eating songbirds such as finches, sparrows, chickadees, and jays will make use of many common garden plants. When cleaning up the garden, prioritize removing and discarding diseased top growth, but leave healthy seed heads standing. Old stalks and leaves can be cut back in the spring before new growth begins. Examples of perennials to leave standing in the garden include sedum, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, sunflower, switchgrass and little blue stem.
5. Bag and throw away infested plants. Put healthy plants on your compost pile. Fall is a good time to remove vines from fences and other supports when the stems are firmer.
6. Pull out and clean garden labels, stakes, cages and trellises. Pull up black plastic from the garden as it can harbor insects. If you have garden art, clean and put it away unless you want it to provide some winter interest.
7. Rake your garden beds to remove plant debris. You may spread shredded tree leaves evenly on your garden bed, tilling them in to a shallow depth.
8. Rake the leaves on your lawn then mow lawn one last time. Mow with your blade at 2 inches to reduce the chance of snow mold. Then clean and service your lawn mower so it will be ready to go in the spring.
9. Prepare any houseplants that you left outside all summer before bringing them inside. Examine plants for insects; clean out plant debris that may be on the soil surface; clean the saucer and pot. Consider whether the plant needs to be transplanted into a larger pot after spending the summer growing in the sun.
10. Protect your plants and trees. Wrap sensitive evergreens to reduce potential wind damage. Put tree guards or cloth cages around young trees and shrubs to prevent sunscald damage and animal damage. Read these articles by Dakota County Master Gardeners for more information about protecting trees and plants from winter damage. https://www.dakotamastergardeners.org/treesshrubs/taking-care-of-and-protecting-trees-before-winter; https://www.dakotamastergardeners.org/treesshrubs/preparing-your-trees-and-evergreens-for-winter
11. Now is a good time have your soil tested. Send your sample to the UMN Soils Lab. The report will provide recommendations for improving your soil health. Go to https://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/ for instructions.
12. Clean and sharpen your tools and containers before storing them away for the winter. Wash pots and tools with a diluted bleach or 70% rubbing alcohol solution. Cleaning will help prevent the spread of diseases and unwanted weed seeds and insect eggs. It will also help to prolong the life of your tools.
And, don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the spectacular color display that your garden is providing this time of year!
Photo credits: www.ag.ndsu.edu (All Creative Commons) (1), University of Minnesota Extension (2, 3, 4), Karna Berg (5)