It’s that time of year—the weather forecasters begin to hint at the white stuff coming soon, frost appears regularly in the early morning hours, and the harvesting season comes to an end. Autumn is the time of year that we celebrate our garden victories and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But autumn is also a time when we need to get ready for the next season, winter.
Make a list and check it twice
Last year I made some silly mistakes when conducting my annual fall clean-up tasks. For example, I forgot to empty the water out of my watering can before temperatures dipped below freezing and remained there. The following spring I had a cracked can that I had to replace because it leaked water. I also forgot to drain the water out of my hose before it was too late…fortunately I did not need to replace that. But this year I wasn’t taking any chances. I decided early on to get organized and create a comprehensive end-of-season checklist for myself. And I’m happy to report that I just finally checked the last item off the list this past weekend (winter comes early here!). Today I thought I’d share that checklist with you so you can rest assured that your yard and gardens are prepared for winter.
- Mow the lawn one last time. One good thing about the onset of winter is that lawn-mowing can come to end until next spring. Decide when you’ll mow for the last time and then safely store your lawn mower for the season. If you have a mulching lawn mower, consider the benefits of mowing your leaves right into the grass instead of raking them.
- Deal with leaf matter. No mulching lawn mower? Or perhaps you actually like raking leaves? Watch the trees carefully and track when they’ve lost all or almost all of their leaves for the season. Instead of simply bagging your piles and sending them to the dump, consider adding them to your compost pile or using them as mulch for your gardens.
- Monitor your gutters. If you have a lot of trees that send leaves right into your gutters, be sure to watch and see that they don’t get too full to the point that water cannot flow properly. We have a tool to reach our high gutters that removes leaf clumps that gather in certain places.
- Harvest the last of your vegetables and fruits. Pick the rest of your sensitive veggies before the first hard freeze and decide how to prepare and store them for the winter. For hardy veggies like carrots, consider leaving them in the garden over winter, but be sure to adequately mulch them so they’ll survive.
- Dig up your annual vegetable garden. After the final harvests, dig up all the annual plants and add them to your compost pile if you have one (be careful not to add diseased plants to your compost pile). Or consider working some of the plant matter right back into the soil for added nutrients next year. Then turn the soil to prepare for the spring planting season. Be sure to mulch any perennials that will remain in the garden over the winter.
- Leave most perennial plants standing. Autumn is a time for increased bird populations and many perennial flowers provide seeds for these passing migrants (e.g. cone flowers or black-eyed susans). Leaving disease-free perennial plants standing can also add beauty to the winter landscape.
- Prune certain perennial plants for insect and disease control. While some plants can be left alone, you should consider the benefits of lightly pruning certain perennials to help prevent and control pests. Plants that would benefit from a little pruning include irises, daylilies, or columbines.
- Collect seeds for next year. If you are a seed collector, now is the time of year to collect, inventory, organize, and store them for next year’s planting.
- Bring in sensitive plants. Perhaps you put houseplants outside for the summer. Maybe you planted sensitive bulbs or other perennials and annuals in your gardens that cannot survive the winter. Or possibly you had nice collection hanging pots all around your yard. Regardless, you need to be sure to bring everything in before damaging frost if you are planning on keeping them alive.
- Plant bulbs. While you might be busy digging up other plants, autumn is actually the time of year to plant your spring bulbs. Plan when and where you will bury the bulbs and adequately mulch the soil for added protection over the cold winter.
- Start new plants. Due to cooler and wetter conditions, autumn is actually an ideal time to plant certain perennials, trees, and garden crops like garlic.
- Remove and store garden accessories. Take out your tomato cages, plant stakes, cloches, or sensitive decorations and store them safely for the winter. Give them a good once-over and decide if they need repairs or replacement. Also try to clean them off so they’re ready when you need them next season.
- Clean and store garden tools. Properly maintaining your garden tools will help them last much longer. Be sure to clean, dry, and safely store all your expensive equipment so you can use it again next year.
- Clean and store pots. Pots can quickly become a nuisance if they are not cleaned and stored properly. Give them all a good wash and stack them in an organized fashion.
- Drain and store your hose. As I said above, I made the mistake of forgetting to drain my hose last year before it totally froze. Fortunately it did not crack, but it certainly could have. After its last use, drain all the water out and find a safe place to store it for the winter.
- Empty your watering cans. Many gardeners like to keep their watering cans full of water so when they want to give their plants a drink, they’ve got water ready and available. Don’t make the mistake I did last year and forget to dump the water out before it freezes. My watering can was plastic and it cracked so I had to buy a new one the following season.
- Bring in liquid fertilizers or pesticides. Similar to the point above, be sure to bring all your garden liquids inside where they can’t freeze. Store potentially harmful chemicals in a safe place where children will not have access to them.
- Straighten up the garage. Your garage (or shed) is where you will undoubtedly be storing all your yard and garden supplies for the winter. Be sure you’ve organized everything in advance and stored each item in a logical place. Believe me when I say that you will not want to be moving things around too much to try to find what you need when it’s the cold of winter.
- Tidy up the yard. After you’ve done everything else, it’s time to just tidy up the yard a bit and tie up any loose ends before closing shop for the season.
- Take advantage of end-of-season sales. This last tip doesn’t really belong on the clean-up checklist, per se, but it goes without saying that this is the time of year when pots, tools, or even plants might be on sale. Take advantage of this money-saving opportunity and buy now.
This is certainly not an exhaustive checklist, especially since everyone’s autumn clean-up needs will vary depending on many factors. Do you have anything you’d add to the list?