Some gardeners will do whatever it takes to keep their gardens growing as long as possible. With the right combination of techniques, one could potentially garden year round, even in the coldest climates.
Then there is the other group; those gardeners ready to retire their garden for the season by the time autumn rolls around. If you see yourself in this second group, a few steps should be taken first to ensure a carefree start to your next gardening season.
One of the first tasks in putting the fall garden to bed includes removing all weeds. Now, before you stop reading this article in protest, know that the weeds are on the verge of releasing potentially millions of seeds. Any effort you can make now to prevent this will make future work that much easier. It’s often said, one weed removed today is thousands less to remove tomorrow. Most weeds in the garden are annuals which reproduce from seeds. Remove any weeds with seed heads or flowers promptly. I don’t even put them in my compost pile for fear of the seeds surviving the composting process. This occurs when temperatures don’t get hot enough to kill the seeds.
Next, make sure the garden is free of all debris. Besides the obvious consideration of a neater, better looking garden, dead branches, leaves and such can be a significant hiding place and home for many types of pests and diseases that over-winter in the protection of these materials.
This is not an indictment of leaf mulch in your garden. In fact, it is just the opposite. I am a strong advocate for the use of natural, recycled organic material as mulch and I see it as a critical component to a healthy garden. However, I do strongly suggest that the mulch and leaves be kept 2-3 inches away from the base of all shrubs and trees. Otherwise, it can trap moisture at the trunk or base and provide an easy way for pests and diseases to potentially enter the plant.
The next task is to prune away and remove any diseased, dead or dying wood. Removing these potential habitats now reduces the possibility of an infestation later. Selective pruning at this time is also important for another reason. Branches that are growing inward as opposed to outward as they should are more likely to cross and rub against other branches. Crossing branches can be abrasive and the constant rubbing can open the bark layer, exposing yet another way problems can enter the plant.
Once the clean up is complete, it’s time to put away the hoses, drain the irrigation lines and bring in all the tools and equipment. Just be sure you really are finished for the season before you complete these tasks! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed access to water at the far end of my garden after the hoses are stored and irrigation lines have been cleared! However, given this advice, I’d rather retrieve a hose than have to dig out and repair a cracked irrigation line due to freezing. The few extra steps now allow me to get off to a fast start next spring in a cleaner, healthier garden.