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Autumn Garden Maintenance Chores Before the Blast of Winter

Garden Bed Debris

native plant elderberries eaten by birdsI like to clean any fallen debris, like leaves, from my gardens, and leave most of the plants alone. Cleaning out debris means less fungal disease spreading and places for harmful pests to winter over. Leaving perennial stems carrying seed heads standing, will feed the birds over the winter when there are slim pickings and you can cut them down in the spring. Coneflowers, marigolds, and aster seeds are an especial treat for birds of all kinds. Leave your berries for the birds also. Elderberries (Sambucus) are always removed quickly as a tasty treat by many birds.

Mulch to Prevent Frost Heaving
If there is bare soil present in my planted beds, I throw some organic mulch, like pine straw or shredded tan bark, on top to insulate plant’s roots from the destructive freezing and thawing that can actually heave plants out of the ground, hastening their demise. Here in the mid-Atlantic, it is a common problem with our variable weather and I have lost plants, especially newly planted ones, from this freeze-thaw cycle. Piling some topsoil around the crowns of plants will help insulate also.

What To Do With All Those Leaves?
bagging leaves in fall native plantsI have plenty of large trees and instead of raking and bagging, I use a regular lawn mower to run over the leaves to shred them into small pieces that will quickly decompose to nourish and feed the lawn. Not using any chemicals or

bagged fertilizers on my lawn, ensures that the lawn remains healthy without this artificial additive. Leaving fallen leaves on beds and lawn, leads to fungal disease because of the trapped moisture, so be sure to shred into small particles so that they decompose quickly. Any extra leaves can be added whole to your compost pile to break down over time.

Tool Inspection & Renovation

required tools pruning and trimming native plants

Many of my gardening tools are showing wear and need to be cleaned and sharpened. My frequently used Felco pruners especially get a beating and need to be sharpened periodically and springs replaced. Shovels, spades, and other tools can be sharpened with a grinder wheel or file, rubbed with linseed oil, tung oil, motor oil, or even cooking oil. Be sure to wear eye protection when sharpening blades. My hoses need to be drained and I hang them up in the rafters of my garage until next spring. Be sure to service your power equipment in the fall to avoid fuel gumming up.

Bringing Houseplants In
Most of my houseplants vacation outside and have grown exponentially and need to be repotted and brought inside. I try to find a pot one size up from the existing root bound plant and repot – loosening the roots and pruning them if necessary. Add some fresh soil and compost and transfer to a larger pot. Examine the foliage and direct a forceful stream of water over the foliage to get rid of any unwelcome guests that could be lurking on the plant.

Invite Wildlife In
squirrel eating food in native gardenMy favorite to-do for Fall is to clean and set out my bird feeders so I can observe and photograph the different species visiting through the winter months. Cleaning the bird feeders with a dish washer on hot, or by hand with soapy water and a dilute bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 part water), is necessary to kill any lingering pathogens which can be transmitted to visiting birds. Rinse and thoroughly dry the feeders before filling up with freshly bought bird feed. The best height to hang a bird feeder is 5 feet from the ground and I like to hang it so I can see it from my back-kitchen window.

birds eating from feeder in native plant garden

Having nearby shrubs or trees close to the feeder helps shelter feeding birds that hide from predators such as hawks which will patrol bird feeding stations. Hang suet blocks in a wire cage from trees and you will be amazed at the number of birds that are attracted (squirrels too!).

Planting Veggies

After removing dead tomato plants, and old squash vines, I start to plant transplants of cauliflower, cabbage,

broccoli, lettuce, pak choi, and other greens. Mulching with some leftover straw from my spring stash keeps the weeds down. You could also use black landscape cloth, stapled into the ground for a quick solution. Row cover placed over cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts will keep the insects away and protect from weather, as well as let sunlight and rain in. Autumn is also the perfect time to lift and divide perennial plants to expand your plant collection.


Seeds-Order Early!

seed catalogs for gardens

One last chore is to curl up with some plant/seed catalogs or browse on-line for ideas to plant for next year. Order your seeds and plants early as many companies sold out this year and had limited selections because of COVD. Look for my article at TheGardenDiaries on Neonic and Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seeds to get some ideas of places to order from.




Claire is a horticulturalist and landscape design consultant. Owner of Claire Jones Landscapes, LLC, Claire’s designed gardens have been featured in print publications like WSJ and Style Magazine. A garden writer at The Garden Diaries, Claire maintains 3 honeybee hives and gardens at her home in Maryland. 

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 29th, 2020 at 7:09 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.