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Fall Garden Cleanup: 9 Tips To Get Your Yard Ready for Winter

You’ve spent all summer in the yard and garden. You’ve been diligent about watering, weeding, and picking up the kids toys. But the weather is turning and it’s time for some serious fall garden cleanup. Fall yard maintenance is a necessary task for anybody who is serious about giving their garden a head start before next year's growing season.

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of our 9 must-do items in a fall garden clean up. From reducing garden pests to getting perennial plants prepped for the next season, here's what to check off your fall yard cleanup list this September.

1. Clean Up Your Vegetable Garden Beds

While you might be able to take a more relaxed approach in other areas of the yard, your garden beds are one backyard space that you should take seriously this fall. Start your clean up process by removing any dead or spent plant material. Weed your beds thoroughly. Healthy plant materials can be composted, but not all organic material should get the same treatment.

During your fall garden cleanup, keep a special eye out for vegetables or plants that show signs of infection, fungus, mildew, or pests. These issues can cause problems in a compost pile. Dispose of any affected material separately.

If you are not maintaining or harvesting any winter crops, then it’s time to rake your turn. Turning your soil over will expose grubs and other pests to colder weather. From here, consider ground cover. Spreading a layer of mulch, or covering garden beds with a tarp can help stunt weed growth. This will keep you ahead of the curve and ensure a clean slate to start from come spring.

2. Maintain Your Perennials 

Your trusty perennials rely on you to keep them looking your best. Different plants will have different varieties of needs, but all should be thought of before winter sets in. For native plants and wildflowers, like black eyed susan and coneflowers, nothing significant is required until spring. Instead, remove all dead plant materials and ensure their space is tidy.

Other perennial blooms, like irises, hostas, lilies and peonies, need a little more help. Cut back flower heads on peonies and irises. They are not self seeding, and can be trimmed back between 3 and 5 inches.

If your hostas are starting to look a bit thick, or dead in the middle, it’s time to split them. Using a spade, remove the plant from the ground. Separate it into smaller pieces and replant at the same depth. The result should be healthier, happier hostas come spring.

3. Prep Grass–Mow Your Lawn

We’ve previously devoted an entire article to the intricacies of preparing your lawn for the winter season. From overseeding to aeration, check out that article for more specifics. The general overview, however, is this. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple when it comes to preparing your grass for winter.

Avoid the temptation to cut grass back to the quick, so to speak. Giving your lawn a fall buzzcut might feel like the right thing to do, but it can be stressful. At the shortest, leave grass around one and a half inches to protect it in cold weather ahead. Grass can be left as long as three inches.

If you are trying to stimulate new grass growth next year, it may be worth top dressing and fertilizing. This means covering an aerated lawn with organic material and fertilizer. Fall rain will drive essential nutrients down into the earth, resulting in a healther, happier lawn come springtime.

4. What To Do With Fall Leaves

It may have been drilled into you at a young age that raking every scrap of leaves and debris from your yard during fall lawn cleanup is a must. Truth is, all this work is likely for very little spring return. In fact, leaving a lawn completely bare or exposed can make it more vulnerable to a harsh winter season.

Instead of raking and bagging all fall leaves, make them work for you. After removing from driveways and paths where they can become slippery, use them to your advantage by creating leaf mulch. What is leaf mulch? Glad you asked.

Leaf mulch is mulch that is made from shredded leaves and often is mixed with other organic matter such as grass clippings. Unlike mulch made from other materials such as wood chips, leaf mulch decomposes faster. Come spring, the layer of shredded leaves you left in winter should have completely disappeared into the ground below, leaving beneficial organisms behind.

5. Maximize Your Compost Pile

Your yard might not love being choked with dead and dying plant material, but your compost pile will. If you’re wondering what to do with all of the dead or spent plant matter you’ve pulled from your flower beds and vegetable gardens this fall, consider composting. If you don’t already have a compost pile, then the fall season is the perfect time to start.

Layer dead material like brown leaves with greener stems and cut flowers. Keep the pile a little moist and make sure you aerate it by turning it over regularly. From there, let nature take its course and reap the benefits when it comes time to plant next spring.

6. Complete Fall Watering

Any new plantings should get a thorough soaking before winter begins. These plants will need to be cozy in their new home before winter chill gets to them. Part of establishing new plants in the fall season is ensuring that they get plenty of water.

Any new trees, shrubs, or prepared perennials will benefit from a good dousing of water to send them into the next season in good health.

7. Clean Out Container Plants

Unlike ground or raised beds, your container plants are probably about ready to tap out. Instead of leaving dead plant matter in your favorite pots over winter, get ahead of the curve by cleaning them out.

Start by removing the old plant material. Compost or dispose of this material accordingly. From here, clean pots as thoroughly as you see fit. Some containers may only need a quick rinse to clear away materials. Others may benefit from a scrub down with a wire brush. Ceramic and clay pots should be brought inside for the winter. Cold temperatures can easily crack these materials.

Besides keeping things orderly, a fall cleanup of your container plants will free up these containers for spring plantings. Bring your containers indoors to start seeds on time, or simply have them at the ready when it’s warm enough to plant. Either way, you’re saving yourself more work down the road and setting the stage for a successful spring season.

8. Get Your Yard Tools Organized

It’s been a long spring and summer of digging, pruning, clipping, weeding, and raking. All of this work means having the right tools for the trade. Now that winter is here, many of us may be trading our spades and sheers for shovels and ice picks. Make sure you have the right equipment at the ready by taking your fall garden cleanup into the garage this year.

Gather all of your yard equipment together. Wipe them down or clear off excess debris. Remove moisture and dirt to help prevent rust and keep shovels, spades, and rakes in good working order.

Once finished, store in a clean, dry place out of the way of the elements so they are ready to go when the weather warms again.

9. Don’t Forget to Turn Off Your Water

Water and freezing temperatures means consequences for your home. Expanding ice can damage or destroy garden hoses. To prevent this, turn off outdoor water. Drain your garden hoses completely, coil, and store for the season. 

For readers with pools, this prep is taken to a whole new level. Read more about how you can protect and prepare your pool for the winter season.

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