Fall garden cleanup can be very stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I will talk about when to start getting your garden ready for winter, and which chores you can skip. Then we’ll talk about how to clean your garden, and I’ll give you my five best garden cleaning tips that will simplify your life!
Fall is such an incredibly busy time of year for us gardeners. Between the harvesting, canning, pickling, freezing, chopping, eating, cooking, and fighting the first few frosts (after a summer of fighting heat, drought, bugs and diseases – wait, why do we love gardening so much again?).
Whew, I’m exhausted just writing all of that! Fall garden cleanup is one of those big stresses. But guess what, it really doesn’t have to be stressful!
Do You Really Need To Clean Your Garden In The Fall?
When I first started gardening, I thought I had to completely clean my garden, and get everything done before winter came. And I mean everything.
I thought I had to clean up every little bit of dead plant material, fallen leaves and other debris in my garden in the fall (I’m a bit of a clean freak). OMG did I make things stressful for myself!
Well guess what? It turns out, you don’t need to have completely clean garden in the fall after all. In fact, it’s actually good to leave many things in the garden until spring.
Fall Flower Bed Cleanup Chores You Can Skip
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to clean the garden out completely in the fall! Here are three major fall garden chores that you can skip all together if you want, which will save you tons of time (and stress!)…
1. Leave the leaves in your flower beds – Leaves are good for the garden and feed the soil as they break down. So don’t waste time on fall leaf cleanup in your garden. You should leave leaves in flower beds. They’ll break down quickly, and you can mulch right over them in the spring.
2. Leave the foliage on your plants – Dead plant material is a wonderful place for beneficial insects to hibernate during the winter. Cleaning flower beds of all the plant material in the fall means you could be destroying all of those good bugs. The one exception to this is irises. You definitely want to cut those back in the fall to avoid an iris borer infestation next summer!
3. Leave the flowers in your garden – Flowers like coneflowers and sunflowers have seeds that feed the birds and other wildlife through the winter. Many types of flowers also add wonderful winter interest to the garden. So you can continue to enjoy your gardens even when they’re covered by snow.
Of course, if you completely skip all of your fall yard work, that means you might end up being doubly stressed out trying to get it all done in the spring. We don’t want that! So let’s talk about when to start your fall yard cleanup, and then I’ll jump into giving you tips to make it much easier for you!
When To Clean Up The Garden In The Fall
The best time to start your fall garden preparation is after the first few freezing nights have killed back much of the flowers and foliage on the plants. Of course, you can start earlier than that if you want to. But be careful starting too early.
Freezing temperatures are a trigger for perennials that it’s time to begin the process of going dormant for the winter. If you start cutting back your plants too early, it could trigger new growth on the plants, and you don’t want to do that in the fall.
5 Fall Garden Cleanup Tips That Will Simplify Your Life
Ok, we talked about which chores you can skip on your fall cleanup checklist, and when to start cleaning the garden. Now let’s talk about how to simply the chores on the list! Over the years, I’ve come up with several shortcuts for my end-of-year garden cleanup, and now I get to share my simplified fall cleanup tips with you.
1. Don’t cut everything back – As I mentioned above, leaving plants in the garden through the winter can be beneficial. But you don’t want to be overwhelmed in the spring either. So, let’s compromise!
In the fall, cut down spring blooming perennials and any plants you don’t want self-seeding all over the garden. I cut back my earliest spring perennials, like peonies, spring bulbs and irises. I also deadhead plants like rudbeckias, columbine and liatris because I don’t want them spreading seeds all over the garden.
By cutting down the early spring perennials during your fall garden cleanup, you’ll buy yourself a month or so before you have to worry about cleaning up the gardens in the spring.
2. Get yourself a leaf blower – Trust me on this. You’ll discover that a leaf blower is worth every penny. I used to be a rake girl, and actually kinda enjoyed raking the yard (until my arms felt like they would fall off).
But now that I have one, I can’t believe how much easier a leaf blower makes my fall garden cleanup chores. All I have to do now is blow the leaves right into my garden. Or blow them into a nice neat pile. Easy peasy!
3. Use your lawn mower as a leaf vacuum – The best way to remove leaves from yard is to use your lawn mower like a vacuum cleaner to suck up the leaves from your lawn. Put the bag attachment on your mower, then blow or rake all the leaves into a loose pile and simply mow them up.
Then you can dump the mower bag into your garden cleanup bags, into the compost bin, or directly into your garden to use as mulch! Or, leave the mower bag off and mulch the leaves directly into the lawn instead. Leaves aren’t just great for the garden, they’re good for the grass too!
4. Use a hedge trimmer to cut back your perennials – This one was actually my husband’s idea. A few years ago, I was super far behind on my fall garden cleanup chores and asked him to help me.
When he saw me down on my hands and knees using hand held garden clippers to cut down my perennials one by one, he was like “why the hell are you making it so hard on yourself?” (my words, not his – haha!). He disappeared into the garage and came back out with the hedge trimmer.
I was confused (and slightly alarmed) for a minute, then once I saw how quickly and efficiently he was chopping down perennial after perennial, I was thrilled!
All I had to do was follow behind him and pick up the debris. Can you say game changer?! (he might regret that, cause guess who’s my fall garden cleanup helper for the rest of eternity!!) Awesome! Double easy peasy! Note: you could use hand held hedge trimming shears instead if you don’t have a hedge trimmer.
5. Focus on the critical tasks and let the rest go – Gardening is not one of those hobbies where you can control every little detail, and have it all turn out perfectly. (This is a lesson you probably learned after about the first 5 minutes of gardening.)
So focus on the most important fall garden tasks, and let the rest go. I wish someone would have given this advice when I first started gardening (although, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway!).
I hope that this list of ways to simplify your fall garden cleanup will really help to take the stress out of putting your garden to bed for the winter. And now that you know how to clean the garden without all the stress and overwhelm, maybe you’ll have more time to enjoy your fall gardens!
If you’re looking for a comprehensive fall garden cleanup checklist, get my full list here… How To Winterize Your Garden In The Fall.
More Fall Gardening Tips
- How To Prepare Your Vegetable Garden For Winter
- How To Protect Plants From Frost Damage
- When & How To Plant Bulbs In The Fall For Spring Flowers
Add your tips to simplify fall garden cleanup, or share your fall cleaning checklist in the comments section below!