Fall Chores: Autumn Garden Cleanup

Cleaning and Preparing the Vegetable Garden

Sep 8, 2017
Fall Garden Tasks
Robin Sweetser

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It’s time to start on those fall garden chores. Here is a to-do list for fall vegetable garden cleanup.

Last year, we did not get our first killing frost until mid-October, almost a month after the autumnal equinox, giving us a good long growing season this year. Check the frost dates in your area and find out how to predict frost yourself.

Until that frost, even tender vegetables such as beans, cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, bok choy, and squash have time to mature and gave us a second taste of spring before the temperatures plummet. Find out how to extend your growing season and protect your plants from frost.

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Time to clean it all up and get ready for next year. Many of next season’s problems can be avoided by careful fall cleanup.

Gardening Tips for Fall Garden Cleanup

  • Any spent plants should be removed. If they had bugs or were diseased, get them off your property. You don’t want to add anything to your compost pile that could harbor diseases or insects.
  • Just one weed left to mature can produce hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds that will grow into weeds to plague you next year, so weed the garden one last time. I have been digging perennial weeds such as dock—whose roots go down to China—out of the flower beds. The holes left behind are perfect spots to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Bye-bye noxious weeds, hello spring color!

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  • Fall is a great time to create new planting beds. No digging necessary! Just set your mower as low as it will go and scalp the grass, then cover the area with a thick layer of newspapers. Cover the papers with a layer of compost and top it all off with lots of chopped leaves. In the spring you’ll have a lovely new planting bed full of worms.
  • While the mower is out, mow around the fruit trees one last time to discourage mice from nesting there. 

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  • Install mouse guards made of fine mesh hardware cloth around the base of your fruit trees to keep mice and voles from eating the bark and killing the trees over the winter. Find out more about keeping mice and voles out of the garden.
  • If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to make a note of what plants were grown where in your vegetable garden. Don’t rely on your memory! This will help in planning next year’s planting. It is never good to grow plants in the same family in the same place year after year. Not only does it allow pests and diseases specific to that family to become entrenched, it also depletes the soil of the same nutrients each year.
  • While we are talking nutrients, fall is a great time to get your soil tested. Take a representative sample by mixing scoops of soil from several beds located around the garden instead of from just one spot. Armed with the recommendations from the test, you can apply the right amounts of the proper amendments this fall so they will have time to break down and be available to your plants next spring. No guess work or expensive mistakes! See more about testing your soil for a better garden.

Taking the time to do a few last fall chores will get the garden ready for next year. Get tips for preparing the garden for winter. Watch this video on preparing your garden for winter.

What’s on your to-do list for fall garden chores? Let us know below!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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volume of videos

I find your videos very interesting and informative. That is why I don't want to miss out on anything you have to say. You see, I have difficultive hearing you. I have turned my computer up as high as it will go and I still have to listen very hard Can you do anything to to raise the volume?

wintering over potted plants

Hi, wondering if you can give me some advice. I have some perennials that are still in the pots from the garden center. (Never got around to planting them). We have not had first frost yet (NJ) but it could come anytime now.
Should I try to get them into the ground, should I bury them in their pots, should I put them in larger pots and place them in a protected area?

I really appreciate your thoughts.

I would get them in them

I would get them in them ground as soon as possible and once the ground has frozen, mulch them well. If you want to winter them in the pots, wait until the ground has frozen and bury the pots in a pile of leaves. We overwinter a lot of perennial containers this way with great success.

Overwintering Perennials

Thanks so much for your advice, Robin. I put several of them into the ground this week, so they should be good as long as I mulch them after the ground is frozen.

Chrysanthemums-Wintering-over

what is the best mulch to winter over mums? and when to put the mulch on? thanks

Straw, pine needles, or

Straw, pine needles, or evergreen boughs are great for mulching all perennials. It is best to wait until the ground has frozen before mulching. The object is to keep the ground frozen. Freezing and thawing over and over heaves plants out of the ground, breaking roots and exposing them to drying winds. Snow is actually a great mulch if we could rely on a deep snowfall lasting until spring. Even with mulching, your mums may not winter over. Mums that were planted in late summer or fall don’t have time to establish a root system capable of surviving the winter. Best to plant truly hardy mums in the spring if you want them to return year after year.

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