Bad news: It’s time to get your act together and clean up your garden before winter makes the task more difficult. But the good news is, fall garden chores don’t have to be a pain. You might find you enjoy picking up branches or raking leaves in the brisk autumn air.
Whether you love or hate fall chores, here is a checklist of tasks and ways to make them easier.
Make a compost bin
Composting sounds like a lot of hard work, but it’s actually a perfect solution for lazy gardeners. Have a bunch of weeds, grass clippings and branches to get rid of? Don’t bother bagging it up and hauling it to the curb – just throw it in a pile and mix it up every month or so. Then surround the pile with landscape timbers or chicken wire to keep everything from blowing all over the place.
While you can make composting as complicated as you want, it doesn’t have to be.
Rake leaves – or don’t
That’s right, raking the leaves isn’t always necessary. But before you proudly share this news with your significant other to try getting out of your chores, here’s the full story.
Leaves in the front lawn are not desirable, especially when they blow into neighboring lawns. Leaves in the garden, on the other hand, are totally desirable, and act as free mulch to protect roots and conserve moisture.
Another caveat: The soil around rose bushes and other plants that are sensitive to diseases like powdery mildew should be kept clean to prevent infection.
Collect fallen debris
We’ve all had a so-called ‘trash tree’ at some point. You know, the Bradford pear that drops branches at the drop of a hat – or the Osage orange that bombs unsuspecting passersby with rock-hard fruits.
If you’re one of the unfortunate souls with a messy tree, now is the time to collect all that debris for the year. Collect sticks and twigs, too, but once you’ve gathered them, leave them in the garden to serve as perches and homes for wildlife.
Mow the lawn
Cut the grass one last time, and mow it short to prevent diseases from spreading. Collect the grass clippings and add them to your compost pile.
Now is also a good time to complete your edging and string-trimming chores.
When you’re done mowing, winterize your mower and other outdoor power tools by draining the gasoline so it doesn’t become stale and gunk up your equipment for next year.
Prune damaged branches
Fall is about using the anvil pruners rather than the hedge trimmers. Prune out any branches that are diseased, damaged or dead so they won’t succumb to winds or the weight of snow and ice.
If any arm-width branches meet those criteria, use a saw. If any large limbs or trees look as if they’ll break when loaded with ice, call a tree surgeon.
Look at it this way: If there’s anything that you think might fall to the ground on its own accord over the winter, remove it now.
The last thing you want is a bunch of weeds spreading their seeds and taking over your garden in spring. Pull weeds on a pleasant day when it’s above freezing and the soil is a little moist so the weeds will come up more easily.
Since weeds have a tendency to shed their progeny all over the place, throw them on the compost pile or put them in trash bags.
Collect dead leaves
When cleaning and picking up indoors, you’d ideally leave things spotless. This is not the case in the garden, however, since seedpods, flowerheads and fruits add winter interest and provide food and shelter for wildlife.
Still, any dead leaves or other less-useful debris can be collected and composted.
Mulching isn’t necessarily a cleanup task, but it is necessary nonetheless because it protects the plants’ roots over the winter and conserves moisture.
All of those raked leaves you saved will make an excellent mulch for your flowerbeds, or you can purchase the bagged stuff. Use a 1- to 2-inch-deep layer of mulch, and resist the temptation to use landscaping fabric. Doing so might prevent weeds, but it will also prevent the soil around your plants from accessing rainfall or beneficial organisms.
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