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Fall Clean Up: Get It Done Faster and Easier This Year

by Oct 13, 2019Gardening Basics, Flowers, Ornamental Gardens, Trees, Shrubs and Grass, Vegetable Gardening0 comments

INSIDE: Fall clean up. Get my top fall garden clean up tips and learn what to do this fall to get your garden ready for winter.

I remember how excited I was, as a kid, to see all those autumn leaves floating down and creating a beautiful, colorful blanket on the ground.

My mom would rake them up into huge piles on our lawn. I couldn’t wait to bundle up, run outside, and dive right into that tall, crispy pile!

Now, as an adult, the leaves are still just as beautiful, but I’m the one doing the raking! So, it’s not quite as fun…

Since fall cleanup means the gardening season is ending, it isn’t my favorite gardening task. I’d rather be enjoying my garden by starting seeds, planting, and yes, even weeding!

So, I’ve developed some strategies that make fall cleanup easier and faster. And they’ll work for you too!

A big bonus is that doing this fall clean-up will save you time and energy next year during the spring gardening rush.

Here are my top strategies and time-saving tips for cleaning up your garden this fall.

 

house that's had fall clean up done

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How to Clean Up Your Vegetable Garden This Fall

When you’ve had your first hard frost, that’s the time to clean up any warm-season vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Vegetable garden “sanitation” clean-up is super important in the fall.

  • Vegetables are susceptible to a lot of disease issues, and leaving plants up in your garden can result in more disease problems next season.
  • So, don’t leave any plants in your garden that had a disease or significant insects this season.
  • To be on the safe side, don’t put any heavily diseased plants in your compost pile. Most home compost piles don’t get hot enough to kill diseases, so put these plants in the trash.
  • The only plants you should leave in your vegetable garden are winter cover crops and any fall and winter vegetables you’re currently growing.

This is also the time to make a last sweep for weeds, and remove any temporary structures like pea trellises or garden stakes.

Time-saving tips:

  1. Clean and sharpen your hand pruners before starting. The sharper your cutting blades, the easier it is to cut, cut, cut! (This is my favorite pair of hand pruners).
  2. Use a large collapsible bin, like this one, to collect large amounts of plant matter from your vegetable garden. It means fewer trips to your compost pile, garbage can, or truck or trailer – if you’re going to haul everything away.
  3. After you clean up your vegetable beds, consider adding a layer of compost or manure to your beds. It’ll save you time next spring. (And fall is the only time you should add fresh manure to your vegetable garden due to possible diseases like E. coli).
  4. Consider adding a layer of straw mulch to your vegetable beds for the winter, unless you have problems with voles or mice.


Cleaning Up Perennials in the Fall

At the end of the summer, most perennials start to look a bit ragged, and by the time you’ve had your first frost, it’s time to start cutting back your perennials.

By removing the foliage, you’re getting insects and disease out of your garden and giving yourself room to rake up leaves.

And next spring, when your perennials come back, the new growth won’t have to compete with this year’s growth for space and sunlight.

But not all perennials need to be cut back now.

So how do you know what to trim and what to leave up? Let’s start with what you may want to leave up.

Don’t cut back:

  1. Plants that add winter interest to your garden. Any plants that have interesting seed heads or look good poking out of the snow can be left up, unless you need to remove them for another reason See the “do cut back” list below.
  2. Plants that feed wild birds like coneflowers, joe-pye weed, and asters can be left up as a food source for the winter. For a full list of plants that feed wild birds, check out Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season. It’s a fantastic guide to enjoying backyard birds all year long!
  3. Perennials that benefit from not being cut back like some daylilies, Oriental poppies, and any plants that remain evergreen through the winter. How do you know if a particular plant will stay evergreen? A good rule to follow is if they’re brown and withered by late autumn, cut them back. If they’re green and look healthy, don’t cut them back.
  4. Woody subshrubs like Russian sage, butterfly bush, and lavender shouldn’t be cut back until spring when you can see how much of the plant was killed off over the winter.
  5. Most ornamental grasses should be left up so you and can enjoy their beautiful seed heads all winter long. But some grasses break down or lose their color over winter. These are best cut down in the fall. Learn how and when to prune your ornamental grasses.

Do cut back:

  • Any diseased plants, and any plants that are prone to disease or pest problems. For a full list of disease and pest-prone plants, check out The Well Tended Perennial Garden. It’s on my list of must-have gardening books.
  • Any seedheads on your “weedier” plants – the ones that volunteer like crazy, make a nuisance of themselves, pop up everywhere and create more weeding chores in the spring. You can leave the foliage of these plants up to provide places for butterflies and beneficial insects to shelter over the winter.
  • If you have problems with voles, cut back as much low-growing foliage as you can to prevent them from having good “cover” over the winter. Cut back any plants that tend to mat like irises, or create dense cover like coreopsis. Removing the voles’ winter cover will discourage them from making a home in your garden, and will make them easier to trap.

Time-saving tips:

  1. Work your way through your garden a section at a time. Once you see how good the first section looks, you’ll be motivated to keep going.
  2. Clean and sharpen your hand pruners before starting. The sharper your cutting blades, the easier it is to cut, cut, cut! (This is my favorite pair of hand pruners).
  3. Use multiple collapsible bins, like this one, to collect large amounts of plant matter from your perennial garden. It means fewer trips to your compost pile, garbage can, or truck or trailer – if you’re going to haul everything away.
    I use a large one for plant trimmings that can be composted, a small one for seedheads I want to spread around the garden, and another large one for anything that needs to go in the trash.
  4. Rake the leaves from your beds after you do your cutting back chores. It’s much easier to rake when you have more room to maneuver. And you’ll be able to rake up any stray plant leaves and stems.
  5. I also find that listening to music, audiobooks, or podcasts helps me work faster, and I take fewer breaks. Like I said, this isn’t my favorite task.

Mulch your perennial beds

After you’ve cleaned up your perennial beds, re-mulch any areas that are getting thin. Using a wood-based mulch in your perennial beds is the number one way to improve your soil and keep your perennials healthy.

Tips for cleaning up leaves

Start raking leaves the first day they fall.

If you stay on top of this chore, it will be manageable.

It’s ok to leave some leaf litter in your flower beds, as long as the leaves aren’t too thick and create a mat. When they mat and get wet, they can kill herbaceous perennial plants.

Many butterflies and beneficial insects lay their eggs on leaves and use them as winter protection. So, don’t feel that you need to remove every leaf from your garden when you’re doing your clean-up.

If you have a bed or two that are planted with plants native to your area, and they do just fine with a layer of leaves covering the ground over the winter, then this could be perfect place to just let the leaves be.

  • If the leaves won’t blow around too much during the winter, and make a mess you’ll have to clean up later, then go for it!
  • You’ll be helping butterflies and other insects.

How to clean up fall leaves in less time

Even if you’ve been raking leaves since you were a kid, there are a few tips and tools you might not know about that’ll make this chore easier and take less time.

Tired of stopping every five minutes to unclog your rake? Try a “no clog” rake. The tines don’t skewer the leaves, so you don’t have to keep stopping to unclog it. There are several brands to choose from.

Have large lawn areas to rake, but don’t want to spend all day raking? The bigger the rake, the faster the raking! A big rake makes raking leaves a quicker task. Be sure to choose a rake that’s at least 30” wide if you have large areas to rake.

Need to rake leaves out of tight spots like flower beds and in between shrubs? An adjustable rake allows you to get into spaces a regular rake can’t go.

For even faster clean up, see my recommendations below for mulching leaves that land in flower beds.

Once you have your leaves raked up, what should you do with them?

Mulch your leaves

Mulching, or grinding up your leaves, turns them into smaller pieces that can be composted or turned into leaf mold, or used as mulch.

And there are a few different ways to mulch your leaves.

Want to mulch the leaves that end up in your flower beds or borders?

Use a leaf vac with an attached bag. A leaf vac sucks up leaves fast, especially in and around flower beds. I only have to empty mine every 20 minutes or so when I’m vacuuming up leaves.

You also can rake the leaves off your beds and onto your lawn, and then follow these tips for mulching the leaves on your lawn. Just be sure you don’t damage any of your plants with your rake tines.

Need to mulch the leaves on your lawn?

There are a few different ways to get this task done quickly.

  1. Use your leaf vac to suck up the leaves and turn them into leaf mulch.
  2. Use your mulching mower, with the bag attached, to mulch and bag the leaves.
  3. After raking the leaves, put them through a leaf mulcher.


Don’t have a way to mulch your leaves, but still want to compost them? You can create leaf mold out of your leaves.

 

Your Turn

Now that you know how to make fall clean-up easier and faster, you might even have enough time left over to jump into a tall pile of crispy leaves this fall!

How do you clean up your fall garden? Share in a comment below!

HI! I’M CHERYL.

Cheryl Spencer

I believe you can grow your dream garden and still have time to enjoy it.

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Hi, I'm Cheryl. I'm a certified gardener, bird lover, and spreadsheet enthusiast. I believe that with a few smart strategies and a little know-how, you can grow your dream garden and still have time to enjoy it. I teach online gardening courses and write articles that help you save time and money in your garden.

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