People often compliment me on my green thumb. But I can tell you that it is only through many mistakes (most of them costly) and learning from them that I have become a good gardener. This has never been more true than during fall clean-up time. When I cut corners and got lazy, I was very sorry come spring. Below is a check list that I use to help make sure I am a happy gardener when things warm up.
1: Empty all your pots and containers and store them with some protection.
- Whether you have terra cotta pots or plastic pots, if you wish to keep them a while, empty them out. When I have not done this, my terra cotta pots crack from the freezing and thawing of the water in the dirt left in them. The plastic ones may survive a winter or two, but inevitably they just crack and break from the weather as well. What I do is create a make shift compost pile in an area of the yard that is not used. You can put tarp down if you wish. I just start dumping the dirt in one big pile then store my containers under the deck. I add mulched leaves on top of the dirt pile and let mother nature do the rest. All the moisture from the snow will help decompose the debris in the pile, and come spring, I have dirt to put back in all my pots.
2: Cut back hibernating perennials, and move/plant anything you ran out of time for
-This neatens things come spring for new growth, but know what is good to cut and what needs to wait until spring. Definitely do not touch your roses or anything that may get stimulated from the cutting. Just cut back a lot of your dying plant material. As far as moving and planting, as long as it is early fall, this is a good time to do things like that. The plants are ending their life cycle, so they are going to look bad anyway. Transplanting them won't make them worse. This way, you won't have to disrupt them in the spring as they are flowering and growing.This is also a great time to get deals at the garden center and pop them in the ground.
3: Layer dead leaves from raking onto the beds for warmth
- Some gardeners do not like doing this. They claim you might be transmitting mold or diseases to your beds that might be on the leaves. I do this every year and it not only mends the soil as the leaves decompose, but acts as a blanket. But do be careful of wet areas, if you mound too much, you might create a drainage problem for your plants. If your mower does a rough mulch to the leaves, even better.
4: Winterize the lawn
- Just use a store bought, granulated winterizer and sprinkle away.
5: Prune Japanese Maples
- There is much debate about pruning Japanese Maples, but we are trusting our close family friend, who is half Japanese, who tells us to prune in the Fall or early Winter. Also, as in all pruning, use wood glue to seal your cuts.
6: Empty any water gardens, dry pot and store with protection
- This is still a costly learning experience. Last year we emptied the water garden and stored it on the deck upside down, thinking that would be enough. Well, no. We should have stored it under the deck with the rest of our containers-or even the garage. We found a deep crack which took us a week to seal this summer.
7: Cover and put away lawn furniture & grill
- We are fortunate that our deck has a lot of storage underneath, so we put a lot of our chairs, tables, pots and plant stands under there. We cover the chairs to keep them clean and nice with tarp. The table we move to the side on our deck, and wrap with tarp and hold with bungee cords. This seems to have worked. If I did not have storage, I would at least invest in come tarps or covers to protect them from the elements.
8: Mend any bad soil areas so they are ready for spring
- Now I have a separate post dedicated to this, so you can refer to that. But if you have a patch of soil that is very hard or full of clay, now is the time to get it ready for spring. Turn over your patch of soil with a hand pick or shovel. Then dump compost, grass clippings and mulched leaves in the dirt, and mix it again. Then you are done. Mother nature does the rest.
9: Store my potted herbs in the garage
- I know this sounds crazy, but we are able to keep our herb patches in our window boxes alive through the winter. Thyme, tarragon, and oregano keep coming back because we put then on a shelf in the front of the garage. I think the warmth of the car engines keep the dirt from freezing. They come back every spring. Its incredible!
10: Mulch potted roses and water plants against a wall outside
-Another trick to keep some of my potted plants that don't typically come back coming back is to put the pots against the garage wall and pile mulch around the pots and on the pots. I have had sporadic luck doing this. One of my two minature roses came back. My water plants have been even more sporadic. I think out of the three each year that I have done this to, one came back each time. But honestly, its worth the mulch-water plants at the least cost $9-$10 each. That is money saved come spring.
11: Plant spring bulbs
- This is the time to do it, and keep track of where you are putting them! (see next point)
- If you don't journal, I highly recommend it. If you are like me, you can't keep track of what you had for breakfast yesterday, so keeping track of what you moved and planted here and there is very hard. Add bulbs to the mix which are underground until spring, and it can get confusing. I also never follow my plans that I started in the spring. I am an artist, even when I garden. I look think and absorb..then move and shop and move and plant and look again. So fall is a great time to sketch out what you netted out with so you have a base to work with come March. I grab a hot cup of coffee and a warm sweater, grab my journal and do my garden walk.
Ooo, I get cozy and excited just thinking about it! I love the chill of fall with the smell of leaves and apple pie–getting ready to hibernate, just like the garden.