Although not one of my favorite chores, cleaning up the garden and preparing it for winter is one that needs to be done. I have skipped this chore before only to have a horrible mess to deal with in the spring.
Tip: Don’t skip this chore. 🙂
By taking time in the fall to remove your old plants, doctor your soil, and prepare your beds for the long winter sleep, you will not only set yourself up with a healthy garden come spring but you will give your soil a much-needed chance to rest debris free.
This is especially important if you had any pests or diseases you may have struggled with this growing season.
By cleaning things out and removing all the infected plants you will help your garden soil heal. Remember healthy soil is the key to a beautiful and abundant garden.
If you do not do a good job cleaning out or skip this step altogether you will not only have the same problems next growing season but you may find yourself in a disastrous growing situation.
Cucumber Beetles were one headache I had to deal with one particularly tough gardening year. These wonderful visitors (said no one ever) decided to invade my garden along with another 10,000 aunts, uncles, and cousins.
If you ever have pests visit your garden and you don’t want the same visitors next season, you will need to pull it, toss it, burn it.
Then, another visitor decided to sneak in without my knowing and systematically destroy every pumpkin and squash in my garden. These are horrible little creatures are called Squash Vine Borers and they can kill your vine plants quickly.
They sneak in and by the time you realize there is a problem, the damage has been done. To stop next seasons invasion, be thorough when you clean out your plants in the fall. Get every root no matter how small. Take all debris and either dump as far away from your garden as you can or burn them. You will then need to till up your soil to pull eggs up to the surface. This will allow the birds to eat and hopefully destroy as many eggs as possible.
Not a 100% effective way to remove these pests but a large step in the right direction.
I like to go one step further and allow my chickens into my cleaned out the garden in the fall for this very reason. The love bugs and work hard to scratch up eggs and pests keeping things under control.
As with all big jobs, if you break things down into small steps it is much easier to tackle. Steps will also make sure you do not forget anything and you can check this chore off your to-do list for the year.
Fall Garden Clean-Up Checklist
Step #1 Clean Out the Vegetable Plants
When cleaning up your garden, make sure you remove everything.
This includes any produce, plants, roots, mulch, and yes weeds. It is important to be thorough to make sure you keep any recurring diseases and pests to a minimum.
I am learning to be more vigilant myself with this step. Especially after my summer-long battle with pests that one memorable year. Rake, pull, dig, get it all so you can allow your soil a healthy rest before spring.
Step #2 Know What You Can Leave
If you mulch with newspaper you can certainly leave any leftover pieces in there. Over the winter those stray pieces will compost down and actually help your soil.
If, however as I mentioned above, you had any instances of disease or pests I would not leave any mulch at all.
Step #3 Call in Reinforcements
This is not only a favorite tip of mine but one my chickens love as well!
I like to have my chickens have access to my garden for over for as long as possible. This is one of the reasons why I chose to house them so close to my garden. Chickens love bugs and are natural garden rototillers making their way around the entire area eating and scratching as they go.
This really does help keep things under control but will not eradicate a severe problem. Something you may want to keep in mind. To help a bad infestation, I would suggest rototilling your garden up a few times to pull up any eggs to the surface so it is easier for your chickens to find them.
Another tip is to purchase a good fence so you can keep your chickens exactly where you want them. I prefer to use poultry netting for my chickens and find it to be the easiest way to free-range them without risking the health of my other plants. Since the holes of this chicken fencing are pretty small it keeps the chickens in with no incident of escape. I don’t even have to electrify it. I simply make a shoot from the chicken run using the netting and I can quite effectively put my chickens and ducks exactly where I need them. Once an area is completed, I simply relocate the entire flock using the fence.
Step #5 Properly Dispose of Your Plants
If you had any incident of disease or pest invasion this growing season, it is important to dispose of your plants properly. This means to keep all trimmings, produce, and roots out of your compost bing.
This will eliminate the risk of those plants or dirt being put back into your garden come spring.
To do this, find an area where you can safely put your garden plants until you are able to burn them later.
Note: Follow your area’s rules for burning and of course please follow all safety and use caution.
We have a dump area in the back of our property where we put our diseased plants, diseased produce, and mulch. This way we know for sure everything is well away from our garden.
NINJA TIP: If you live in an area that has brush collection, leave your diseased garden debris out for pickup. Your goal is to get all plants away from your garden so the chance of re-infestation is decreased.
Step #6 Remove All Stakes and Cages.
Don’t forget to remove your supports such as stakes and tomato cages. Give them a clean and store in a safe dry area. If you had a disease in your tomatoes and use cages as supports, you may also want to do a light bleach spray, rinse and let them dry in the sun before storage.
The sun is a natural disinfectant and a great resource to use.
Step #7 Leave Your Winter Plants
Clear all plants out of your garden, except for things you may be overwintering such as spinach, scallions or garlic. If you live in a cold winter climate, you will want to put a nice layer of straw or other mulch such as leaves or grass clippings to keep plants better protected.
Step #8 Turn Your Soil
Take a shovel and do a quick turn over of your soil using the tip of your shovel to break up any large chunks. This will help your soil to breath and also bring any roots to the surface that you may have missed.
Remove any roots or rocks as go along.
Step #10 Feed Your Soil
Ninja Tip: Before adding anything to your soil do a PH test first. Knowing exactly where your soil is will better help you determine what needs to be corrected.
If you have a compost pile add a healthy dose to your garden. Work it in with a shovel or a rototiller and rake. This is a great tip if you live in an area where the soil is less than optimal. Each fall add another dose of compost and each year take another step closer to rich healthy soil.
Fall is also a good time to add a layer of mulch. Mulch is a covering of organic materials such as grass (free of weeds) clippings, dried healthy leaves, wood ash, wood chips, or straw.
By adding mulch this way it will go a long way to boosting your gardens nutrition.
Cleaning up your garden for the winter may seem like just a tedious chore, but it is so much more than that. Take the time to remove the old plants, turn your soil, deter pests and disease by adding organic mulch and you will have a much healthier start come spring.