Fall Garden Cleanup

For some, the fall garden cleanup in Chicago includes watching the sun set earlier in the day. Seeing the leaves turn their crisp vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. Getting the mower and lawn care equipment ready for the spring. And finally, tucking away all those lawn and garden ornaments that stood the test of wind, rain and the glaring hot sun.

All that nonsense gives way to the dreaded chill in the air (frost warnings), raking those vibrant colors (leaves) and washing the mud, mold and dried grass off those cute lawn and garden ornaments. In most cases, another coat of spray paint is required to get them back to their original state.

As the hard frost hits us (zone 5a) in October, I still enjoy the somewhat muted garden-snowcolors of the Black-eyed Susan, the Purple Coneflowers and the Sedum Autumn Joy. One winter season I decided not to cut back my Ribbon Grass. While not cutting it back gave the yard wonderful winter interest, it was a sloppy mess in the spring. Besides, by the month of January, my middle garden is usually covered with a pile of snow. However, if you live in a warmer climate with just a little bit of snow and frost, I’d leave it alone till spring.

Here’s what I do in September/October for my fall garden cleanup and keep in mind that I garden in a zone 5a:

In the Garden Shed

It’s a great time to give those garden shears good scrub and sterilizing. You don’t want to start off your next spring gardening season with an infected spade and garden shears. Same goes for all other garden tools. And while you’re at it, sharpened your garden scissors. I find that over the summer mine dulls quite a bit. Also during your fall garden cleanup, it’s also a good time to give the lawnmower a once over maintenance check, along with any other power tools like a hedge trimmer or weed wacker. The spools for most weed trimmers go on sale in the fall. Good time to purchase all kinds of gardening supplies at reduced cost.

For me I like the fall time to organize my garage and garden shed. It gives me comfort to clean the shelves, sweep or vacuum the floors, alter any hooks for the hanging tools and place every garden ornament (cleaned of course) in its perfect winter resting spot.

In the Garden

Go ahead and plant some annual garden mums. If not right into the ground, then in containers. Most garden centers have ample supplies at this time of year. While I do not have tender bulbs in my gardens, I do remind my family members to remove their Begonia and Gladiolus corms as well as their Canna rhizomes and store in dry peat.

During your fall garden cleanup, it’s a great time to divide or move perennials…even shrubs. Just make sure that you carefully move the perennials and you give them ample watering thereafter. When moving shrubs, make sure to take as much of the root ball as possible. Then re-plant as you normally would in a hole 3 times the size of the shrub’s root ball being moved. Water, water, water. Give the plants and shrubs at least 3 weeks of growing prior to the ground freezing up. Speaking of dividing plants, keep in mind that many garden clubs hold plant swaps in the fall. Check your local weekly newspaper or check online. It is a great way to share your bounty.

Autumn Watering

Fall is a great time to deep water your existing trees, shrubs and evergreens. Deep root feeders and be purchased at your local garden centers. They are great investment. You do not want your shrubs and trees going into the winter dehydrated. If you do not have a deep root feeder, use a soaker hose or a regular garden hose on a trickle. And after all that deep watering, remember to detach your garden hoses.

Preparing Perennials

Make sure that if you cut back your perennials you have tagged them properly. Also, you can draw out a map of your flowerbeds or take an photo and make up a garden memory book for the current year.

Dividing daylilies, during your fall garden cleanup is perfect timing. Once divided mark the roots with a marker pen indicating the type of daylilies. Otherwise, if you have several types, and once they are divided and laying on the ground, they all look the same.

Preparing Annuals

Get out that wheelbarrow for the last time and rip out the garden annuals. Place on your compost pile. If not, then why not use the recyclable paper bags. Speaking of the wheelbarrow, use it to spread some organic matter back into the flowerbeds. I don’t suggest the raked leaves (unless there are mulched) as they have a tendency to form matted clumps and can harbor over-winter unwanted pests.

When pulling out you annuals, give your shrubs/perennials a last go-over. Check for and remove any dead or damaged stalks or branches. Besides checking for damages, also check for any fungal disease, gray mold or other pests that are still looming.

Preparing Flowerbeds

Also, during the fall garden cleanup, it is a perfect time to create an on-ground, no dig flowerbed. Using spray paint (our favorite way), draw out the desired shape and size, leaving room for the edging. Simply place several (at least 12 sheet thick) sheets of newspaper (can be wet) over the entire area. Border with limestone or whatever edging material you choose. If you choose to edge prior to the snow falling, make sure to place gravel, newspaper or landscaping fabric under the edging product. If not, weeds and grass will grow through especially if you choose to use a limestone/stone edging product. Next, add the 5 way garden soil mix. Remember, you can wait until the following spring to edge the new flowerbed.

Preparing Containers

Take in the containers. Clay pots and even some plastic pots will crack in the freezing temperatures. Some gardeners remove the dirt from the containers and make sure that they are completely dry inside. Then place Styrofoam inside the containers and leave them out all winter. It works for them. It is the freezing and thawing of wet soil (moisture settles in the clay) that causes them to crack.

Preparing Shrubs

Lightly trim the shrubs, if necessary. Water them. Do not fertilize in the fall. Cover with mulch or leaves for protection. When completing the fall garden cleanup, it is a great time to over-seed your lawn and then add a layer of good top soil. If you are not over-seeding, then fall lawn fertilizing is recommended.

Plant your spring blooming bulbs in late September, early October.

Make sure you are providing sheltered spots for your feathered friends along with squirrel proof feeders. If you want to feed the squirrels, special feeders are available to purchase. Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Just think, it is only 6 more months until everything starts all over again!!

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