Tending to your garden in spring may seem like a fitting task, but in reality, fall is the best time for garden maintenance to prepare for the season ahead. “Most people think fall is the end of the season for their yard or home garden, but anything you need to do to prepare your landscape for spring is best done in October and November,” says Nathan Heinrich, gardener and owner of his eponymous botanical design firm in New York. Imagine you are preparing for a big dinner party: you don’t want to clean and cook at the same time
Lindsay Pangborn, horticulturist and gardening expert at online plant retailer Bloomscape, agrees. “When spring arrives, your plants will be ready and waiting to take off once the weather is right,” she says.
Heinrich and Pangborn share six fall gardening tips that will get your front yard, backyard, and vegetable garden in order so they can thrive next year.
1. Get rid of weeds
Experts say that one of the best ways to control weeds and prevent them from returning in the spring is to eliminate any existing weeds in the fall. Gardening gloves are a must when handling weeds to protect your hands and prevent them from becoming irritated, says Pangborn. She also recommends cutting and digging tools when removing large or established weeds. “This allows you to lift all of the weeds, including the roots, which is essential for effective weeding,” she says.
After weeding, Heinrich recommends spreading a generous layer of organic compost or mulch over your beds. Next, sprinkle organic pre-emergence in the beds, but not on the spots where you want the flower seeds to come back in spring. Preemergent prevents weed seeds and other seeds from germinating in your soil. The final step is to lightly water your beds to allow them to settle and pre-emergence to absorb into the soil.
2. Prune perennials
According to Pangborn, most perennials benefit from a fall pruning. “By the time fall hits, many perennials will have completed their seasonal flowering cycle and are looking a little tired. So cutting them back to the ground will remove shredded leaves,” she says of plants like Shasta daisies and garden phlox. “It’s also important to remove any foliage at the end of the season that could be harboring pests or pathogens.”
The exception to this rule, she says, is to wait until spring to prune perennials — such as Helleborus (aka Lenten rose) that look attractive in winter – or anything with evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage. Heinrich recommends the Felco pruning shears because they are comfortable to hold and easy to use when trimming perennials.
3. Prepare the ground
To make the soil fertile, give it some TLC early. Mulch leaves from the lawn (you can use a mower) and place them in your flower beds along with compost and wood chips. “This brings lots of nutrients into the soil for spring planting, helps with weed suppression, and protects roots and perennials from cold winter temperatures,” says Heinrich. For a quick ground cover, rake the leaves, put them in a hinged garden bag and take them to the beds or compost bin.
4. Divide the greens and plant onions
Pangborn says planting spring-blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils is a project that brings a pop of color at the end of a long winter. Flower bulbs can be planted any time until the ground is frozen in autumn and early winter. “Using an auger bit helps speed up this project, or you can just dig holes with a trowel,” she says. “The bulbs should be planted to a depth of about two and a half times their height.”
5. Clean up the compost heap
Compost breaks down more slowly with the cold temperatures of winter, according to Pangborn, so fall is an ideal time to clean out your compost pile and keep it tidy. Any leftover compost can be spread over your garden beds before winter to fortify the soil with healthy microbes that encourage root growth.
6. Get rid of garden pests
The best way to keep pests out of your garden in the fall, according to Heinrich, is to remove their favorite hiding places. hostas, Daylilies and other perennials are a haven for snails and snails, who like to lay their eggs (which hatch in spring) in the foliage. You should cut back in the fall. You should also sprinkle organic, pet-safe snail, snail, and earwig baits in early to mid-October to reduce the number of pests that show up in the spring. Pangborn adds that when removing garden pests, be sure to examine your garden plants closely and remove any leaves, sticks, or debris. “This debris can harbor eggs or dormant pests during the winter,” she says. “Remember that any garden waste you remove that may be infected with disease or pests should be incinerated or disposed of and not composted.”