Beginning Gardeners Series: Fall Clean-Up

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Beginning Gardeners Series Fall Clean Up

I hope that when looking back over your summer vegetable gardening efforts, you see that your dedication was rewarded with eating lots of delicious, homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons.

Now that plants are reaching the end of their production, it's time to look forward to the fall phase of gardening. It's time for fall garden clean up!

I know. No matter how much enthusiasm I try to interject into that sentence, you probably groaned when you got to the words clean up. There is nothing fun about picking up rotting fruit or pulling up weeds while trying to prevent spilling massive quantities of seeds from the dry, brittle pods growing atop them. If only you'd been more diligent during the summer months, right? Don't be so hard on yourself. Just like keeping a house neat and tidy, the time necessary for those daily tasks that keep things in tip-top shape doesn't always work into our schedule. Instead of maintaining, we often find ourselves playing catch up. But, as tempting as it is to just leave the whole mess until next spring, when you know you'll have a little more enthusiasm about gardening, fall clean up is absolutely necessary.

There are many different things a gardener can do in the name of fall clean up, but because this series is focused on beginning gardening, we are going to stick to 2 areas that are vitally important to the overall health of your future garden as a whole. These are the removal of plant debris and soil amendment.  The removal of plant debris helps prevent the spread of diseases and the overwintering of pests. Soil amendment helps improve the structure and nutrient content for better health of next spring's plants.

Get Rid of Those Plants

The first step in fall garden clean up is to get rid of plant debris. There are several benefits to this.

  • If the plants are diseased and you don't get them out of your garden, they can cause problems by spreading diseases to future gardens. To prevent the spread of disease, these plants should be thrown out with the trash, not composted.
  • Plant debris left behind can serve as a habitat for harmful insects to overwinter.
  • Leaving behind all those seed pods (and those rotting fruits and vegetables) will increase your weeding time and effort next year. You don't want volunteer cantaloupe vines climbing your tomato plants and competing for nutrients and water.
Beginner Fall Clean Up zinnas in the garden that are nearing the time for seed harvesting

Nurture Your Soil

After all plant debris has been removed, gently till or turn the soil. The method you choose will depend on your soil and how you garden. We do all of our gardening in raised beds, so using a tiller is not practical. Fortunately, raised beds means better control over the quality of your soil, so it is easy to turn with a garden fork or shovel. Turning the soil will bring the eggs and larvae of harmful insects to the surface of the soil where they will be killed by the elements or natural enemies.
Prior to turning the soil, amendments such as plant or manure (or a combination) composts can be added to get a jump start on improving the soil for next spring. This would be a good time to have your soil tested to see just what improvements would be most beneficial. You can read about why we began soil testing here and a more technical explanation of why you might want to consider soil testing here.

The Fiskars website includes many encouraging articles about things you can do in your garden during the fall months, and it isn't all about cleaning up messes!