Fall Garden Cleanup...in ONE weekend
Roll up your sleeves, grab some garden tools and get the yard in shape for next spring.
By Teri Dunn, Gloucester, Massachusetts
There's something about a cool, breezy fall day to snap us out of the lazy days of summer and get us moving around the yard with vigor and purpose. And autumn is indeed the ideal time to tidy up the place.
Effort you expend this fall will ensure your yard will be shipshape heading into the colder months. Cleaning up now also means that next spring, you'll be set for a fresh beginning. You won't have to bother with the early-spring chores of making way for the new season's show...you can concentrate on planting!
For an average-size suburban yard (say, about a quarter to a half acre), one weekend is all that's needed to put the yard to bed.
I'm sharing my personal fall plan—you'll save time by doing things in the right order. You can modify the list as you wish to fit your own yard and its needs.
I think you'll agree that earmarking the mornings with heavier, more demanding projects is best, when you have the most energy and temperatures are comfortable. When the days get warm, I schedule my less-taxing chores, even leaving time at the end of the day to relax and soak in the beauty of autumn.
Saturday a.m. :
Start with the biggest job in your yard, which almost always involves the annual flower beds and vegetable- or herb-garden areas. Although these areas contain different plants, the job is essentially the same.
1. Lay out a tarp on the ground, or position a wheelbarrow nearby. Toss all your discards here, and dispose of them when it's full or at job's end.
2. Wade in and yank out spent annuals, even if they look like they still have a little life in them. (Don't leave extra work for another day...the goal is to finish in one weekend!) This includes vegetables and herbs that have faded or "bolted" (gone to seed), as well as annual flowers, plus any weeds that you may have missed during summertime maintenance. Grasp each plant low to the ground so you can pull out the roots. Use a trowel to help extract stubborn root systems.
3. Separate what you're removing into three different piles:
—Ordinary plant debris goes straight to the compost pile or other out-of-the-way area.
—Discard diseased or insect-infested plant parts so they don't survive winter and assault your plants again next year. Don't put them in your compost bin.
—Recycle nonorganic material, such as plastic plant tags, pots or stakes, or toss into the household trash.
4. Cut perennial plants, flower stalks and all, down to within a few inches from the ground. Don't rip or tear. This may damage the plants or even dislodge their root systems. Use good sharp clippers or loppers.
Again, even if the plants look like they have a little life left in them, now's the time to address this project for the sake of efficiency. These discards can go to the compost pile. Possible exceptions include sedums, ornamental grasses and other perennials that look attractive all winter
Now take a break. Drink plenty of fluids and enjoy some lunch to replenish your energy...there's a list of afternoon tasks ahead.
Saturday p.m. :
AMEND AND MULCH
Once you're refreshed, return to your flower beds for lighter tasks. Remember to pace yourself...you don't want to overdo it.
1. Carefully rake the beds as neatly as you can. This just gives your work a finished look, plus it may turn up a few plants you missed tearing out or cutting back.
2. Once the flower and vegetable gardens have been cleared and tidied, now's the time to dig or till in some organic matter, such as compost, dampened peat moss or shredded leaves. Leave this to "meld" and break down a bit over the winter.
3. Optional project: Avid vegetable gardeners or those who feel their soil could really benefit from a big dose of organic matter can sow a "cover crop" in the fall. Annual rye works almost anywhere; winter wheat is good in the coldest areas.
The idea is to let this thickly sown crop grow over the winter months and till it into the ground the following spring, thus adding valuable humus. Check with your local garden center for seed and follow the sowing directions on the bag.
4. Finally, if you expect a cold winter or one without a good insulating snow cover, mulch the beds. (This is best left until the ground freezes. Doing it before may create good habitat for rodents that may feed on plants.) A layer of just a few inches is usually sufficient. Pine boughs can be laid over a perennial garden and will help trap and hold snowfall in place.
Time to relax. Have a restful night...tomorrow's another, but at least the last, day of fall yard cleanup.
Now that you've removed faded flowers and cut back the perennials, your shrubs clamor for attention.
You can and should send your shrubs into winter in good condition so they are sure to return in glory next year. Assuming there has already been at least one good hard freeze, it's also safe and advisable to take winter-protection measures.
1. Trim. Now is not the time to do any substantial pruning or shaping of your shrubs. But it's okay to remove branches that are obviously dead, diseased or damaged. After all, they're never going to revive. Use sharp clippers or loppers.
2. Tidy up. Plant pests and diseases can be harbored in fallen foliage and other plant debris that falls near or at the base of favorite shrubs. Rake out all this material and throw it away (not on the compost pile, where it could survive winter and return to plague your plants next year).
3. One last watering. Set the hose at the base of each shrub for a while, long enough for a good deep soaking directly to its root system. This sends the plant into winter well hydrated. Once the ground is frozen, water won't be able to get to the roots, so now is the time.
4. Do not fertilize! Thisonly encourages fresh growth at a time when the plant should be slowing down and going to sleep. Plus, the new growth is especially vulnerable to freezing and cold damage.
You've worked hard...take some time to rest and refuel. With the list of afternoon chores that lie ahead, you'll need to.
REVIVE YOUR LAWN
After lunch, tackle the lawn—fall is a fine time to do a little repair or renovation. The soil is still somewhat warm and probably drier than it will be in spring. Also, the air is cool, so watering and rainfall will be most beneficial.
As for what sort of grass or grass blend to purchase, ask at your local garden center—they should be able to advise you on what kind and how much. To get started with lawn repair:
1. Remove bad sod with a shovel or spading fork. This includes damaged or thinning areas of the lawn. Take it to the compost pile (lay it on grass-side down, and it will break down instead of re-root).
2. Dig in some good topsoil, compost, and/or damp peat moss into the cleared spot.
3. Sprinkle new seed on the improved surface—not thickly, but as though you were salting food.
4. Rake in the seeds so that they are barely covered.
5. Sprinkle a very light mulch over the area to help keep the area damp and birds at bay. If you are heavy-handed, some of the seeds will be smothered, and the area will regenerate unevenly.
6. Rope off the area. Even string strung between short wooden stakes will help discourage foot traffic and marauding pets.
7. Water lightly with a sprinkler daily, unless it rains. The idea is to keep the area damp but not drenched.
Come Sunday evening, you should be tired, but feeling that satisfying sense of accomplishment. The yard should have a gratifyingly neatened-up look. Your work this weekend will lead to a healthy, vigorous, good-looking renewal next spring.
But for now, you and your plants will have both earned a well-deserved rest.