I bet you think that once a hard frost delivers its lethal blow that gardening comes to a stand still for the year. Actually the hard work begins–the old clean-up. My husband tells me–“let it wait until Spring.” But as a veteran gardener, that last thing you want to do is clean up last year’s garden in the Spring. In addition to my other fall maintenance tips, here is what I am doing now in the late fall/early winter. Join me. You will thank me next Spring.
#1 Cut back SOME Perennials
Don’t go all pruning happy on me now. Some perennials like to be trimmed now; while others need their girth to survive the winter.
Leave the following plants alone to help them survive the winter:
- Russian Sage
- Butterfly Bush (not to be confused with Butterfly weed.)
- Artemisia (For example, wormswood, tarragon, and mugwort)
- Frikart’s aster
- Montauk daisy
- Red hot poker
- Hardy geraniums
- Moss phlox.
- Plants that are marginally hardy in your zone.
If you want some winter show, don’t cut the following down:
- ornamental grasses
Leave for the birds:
- Black eyed susan.
- Echinacea. (Pictured above.)
Note, you may have more black eyed susan and echinacea seedlings in the spring if you leave them up.
Leave the woody ones alone!
I also have a rule if the plant is woody, leave it alone. I don’t prune my lavender, hyssop, or hydrangeas until the spring.
I always leave about 3 inches of stem so I know where the plant was. Some plants emerge much later than others and then I forget what was planted there.
The powder puffs plants.
Plants like feverfew (pictured above,) catnip, creeping thyme and chamomile that still have green leaves, I leave alone. I simply cut back the dead twigs or stems.
If you are a leave ’em type of gardener:
If you like to keep your dormant perennials plants intact for the winter, be sure to cut back the ones that suffered from disease (powdery mildew) or insect damage. Purdue Extension explains:
“On the other hand, plants with disease or insect pest troubles should be pruned back in fall to reduce the chances of carryover to the following season. Sanitation is one of the best investments gardeners can make in reducing problems for next season. Peonies and Rudbeckia with blackened foliage should definitely be cut back in fall. The same is true for bee balm and phlox, which are routinely plagued by powdery mildew. Removing iris and asparagus foliage in the fall reduces overwintering sites for the iris borer and asparagus beetles, respectively.”
Spring clean-up of daylilies and irises is very hard and time consuming. Prune them now. Again, you will thank me.
What to use to trim?
If you have just a few plants, simply use your pruning shears. I have a lot of perennial herbs and flowers and consequently use a battery powered trimmer. (I use a Black & Decker Hedge Trimmer.)
I can’t carry anything heavier than this trimmer but it struggles when I try to cut down Joe Pye Weed twigs. In addition, it only has a charge of one hour depending on how haed it has to work to cut certain plants.
#2 Get Out and Weed
Fall is the best time to weed. I especially like to weed once I cut back the perennials. I see all the weeds my heart desires.
My fall garden is abundant with dandelions and wild garlic. So I make the extra effort to remove as many weeds as I can now. The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension explains:
“Weeds that are spread by seed produce thousands of seeds. Lambsquarter can bear up to 72,500 seeds per plant, curly dock can bear up to 30,000, purslane 52,000, and redroot pigweed 117,000. If even 50% of the pigweed seedlings germinated next spring, you’d have 58,000 pigweed plants to pull or otherwise get rid of.”
Who wants all those weeds?
My tools of choice to remove weeds are as follows:
- Fiskars Uproot Weed and Root Remover. This tool saves my back and removes little dandelions and other small root plants. It does not remove the entire larger dandelion stems.
- A spade similar to a Fiskars Transplanting Spade to remove stubborn wild garlic. (You can read about wild garlic HERE.) Its blade is thin and doesn’t disturb as much soil as a regular shovel.
Fiskars Duraframe Scratch Weeder which removes long tap root like thistle and dandelions. (By the way, I have 3 of these since I always lose one in the garden and then discover it 3 months later.)
#3 Remove Vegetable Garden Debris:
I totally dismantle my garden. All my cages are cleaned and put away. Dead flowers, weeds and plants are removed.
You don’t want to encourage overwintering pests to nest in your dead vegetable plants. Some people add compost at this point to their beds. I do add some compost to some of my beds but the remaining beds have crop covers. (Read about crop covers HERE.)
The only flowers left in the garden beds are snapdragons. Sometimes, they re-seed themselves in my garden. However, they are actually a tender perennial and overwinter in zone 8 and 9.
#4 Test Your Soil Now!
Fall is the best time to test your soil. Soil tests are specific to a group of plants. (The tests are relatively inexpensive.)
In my case, I had to separately test the soil in my vegetable garden, fruit trees, blueberries, perennial herbs and lawn. It was eye opening.
Once you soil test your garden, you will know exactly what those particular plants need. Unfortunately, soil testing does not reveal if your plants need nitrogen.
Once you know what nutrients your plants need, you follow the instruction as to when to apply the needed nutrients.
You definitely will be ahead of the game in the spring.
Plus, who wants to spend money on fertilizers that your plants may not need?
Watch the video below on how to soil sample.
#5 Clean Your Equipment
Remove the dirt and rust from all of your shovels and pruners. Then apply vegetable oil to shovels if they are not stainless steel to keep them from rusting as well as the wooden handles. Store them off the ground for the winter.
In addition, sharpen your pruners for next year using a bastard file. (Yes, that is the name of the file.) Watch Tricia from Growing Organics in the below video as she walks you through cleaning, sharpening and lubricating your equipment.
Be sure to also read my other Fall maintenance tips.
Join the Conversation:
What fall garden maintenance do you preform?
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