If you can set aside a sunny afternoon, you can get that fall clean-up done in a snap. In many parts of the country it’s the end of the garden season — soon the days will be blustery and blizzardy and bitterly chilly. The tomatoes dangle helplessly from blackened vines, eggplants lie shriveled on the dirt, flowers turn crisp and brown. How does the eco-friendly gardener tidy up the garden and best prepare for next spring? Here’s a handy checklist for you to post next to your potting bench:
___ Move & divide plants Fall is an excellent time to move spring & summer-blooming perennials like daisies, lilies and phlox. Your plants will grow healthier when you divide them every 4 years and you can fill in the bare spots in your garden bed, too. Fall weather is wet enough to make the move easy on the root systems and allow the plant to get comfortable before the cold weather hits. Grab a shovel, dig them up, split them in half using the sharp edge of a shovel, and replant.
___ DO NOT TILL Unless you’re adding lime or breaking up ground for a new bed, tilling in the fall kills valuable microorganisms and worms and hurts your soil’s health. Walk away from the tiller. Go do something else. Exception: vegetable beds where you’ve encountered squash bugs. Those nasty buggers require fall tilling if you don’t want to find them again next spring.
___ Plant Bulbs It takes minutes in the fall to enjoy weeks of colorful blooms in the spring. Grab a trowel, dig a hole 3 times the bulb’s height, drop them in pointy side up. You can buy your bulbs from mail order catalogs, online, or at most lawn and garden centers. If you’ve planted bulbs that aren’t blooming well anymore, chances are they need dividing. Dig up your bulbs, break them apart, replant the extra bulbs in new spots.
___ Wrap Tender Trees & Shrubs Use burlap or wire cages to protect your fruit trees, tree seedlings and tender shrubs from rabbits and deer. These toothy critters nibble without rhyme or reason, so Enviro Girl cannot provide you with a definitive list of what to protect–you simply have to protect what the animals in your neighborhood enjoy eating.
___ Aerate If needed, aerate your lawn to improve its health and resistance against weeds & disease. You can borrow a lawn aerator from a friendly neighbor, rent a lawn aerator for under $30, or buy an aerator attachment for $180.
___ Mulch Your Leaves Rake them into your garden beds (you should cover perennials with 3-5 inches of mulch for winter protection). Compost the leaves in your vegetable garden. DO NOT leave them by the curb for city workers to collect. Shame on you who do! And double-shame on those of you using a leaf blower! Rakes are cheap and cost nothing to operate–and the upper body exercise you get from raking is unparalleled.
___ Fertilize the Lawn Late fall is the best time to fertilize grass, but test your soil first to find out what your lawn needs. Plenty of established lawns do just fine without fertilizing if the soil is healthy.
___ Prep New Beds A 5-page thick layer of wet newspapers and few inches of mulch will kill everything beneath and prepare a garden bed for spring planting.
____Skip the Deadheading Leaving flower seed heads alone will provide a winter food source for the birds and an interesting view when the garden is snow-covered. Most eco-gardeners prefer to cut back and clean up in the springtime. By leaving plants alone in the fall, you also provide a layer of insulation to protect roots from cold winter weather. The only time Enviro Girl deadheads is when she’s gathering seeds for spring planting.
_____Gather Seeds Especially if you’ve planted heirloom varieties. Enviro Girl will post more about this topic next week.
___ Empty Pots & Containers Scrub them with bleach and water to kill any fungus/mold and store.
___ Compost Dig up those veggie vines, spent pepper plants, frostbitten bush beans and toss them in the compost bin.
When you’ve dusted off your hands and kicked the mud off your boots, head inside for a cup of hot cider and a rest — you and your garden deserve it!