Mingo Park covered bridge in the Fall
© Robert M. Donnan
Gardens will benefit from these simple end-of-season tasks:
Remove and compost dead annuals.
If you have large containers in your garden that stay out in the
winter, remove annuals and scrape any roots out of the pot. This
applies only to containers that can take sub-freezing
temperatures, such as whiskey barrels or permanent planters. If
the plants in the container remained healthy all summer, you can
leave all but the top 12-15 inches of soil in the pot until
you're ready to add fresh soil next spring. If the plants within
the container showed any signs of pests or disease, remove all
of the soil and clean the pot with a mild bleach solution of 1
part bleach to 10 parts water.
Cut flower stalks and foliage on perennials to about 6 inches.
Manual hedge clippers make the job easy.
Ornamental grasses can be cutback around Thanksgiving
to prevent dead foliage from littering your yard
Divide overcrowded plants and water new divisions. Division is
best done during early fall to allow root growth for herbaceous
Amend the soil and protect plants with at least 1 inch of
organic material. Mulched or chopped leaves, aged manure or even
straw are good choices.
Compost organic waste, but dispose of diseased plant material in
Peony and bearded iris foliage should be disposed of because
they are likely to harbor botrytis (peony) and borers (iris).
Tree seedlings or rooted stems of stoloniferous shrubs are
easily moved in the fall, right up until the ground freezes.
Examples of stoloniferous shrubs include: red twig dogwood (Cornus
sericea), Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) and Virginia
sweetspire (Itea virginica)
"Hygiene" is the watchword for preparing vegetable gardens for
the next growing season. By removing all signs of pests and
diseased and undesirable plant material in the fall, you'll give
your vegetable bed a healthy start in the spring.
Wash all garden equipment, including containers, plant supports
and tools in a mild bleach solution before drying and storing
them inside during the winter.
Weed, weed, weed! Weed-free soil will translate into higher
yields next year.
To keep your newly weeded vegetable beds "clean," cover them
with two to six inches of leaf mold or other finished compost.
Then, in spring, work the organic material into the soil instead
of adding fertilizer.
If you have a pollinator-friendly garden — one that's a certified
habitat for bees and other pollinating insects — your
end-of-season work is very simple. Your only tasks are removing
dead annuals and diseased plant material, and cutting perennials
you don't want to self-sow. Other than that, do nothing! Don't
cut coneflowers or bee balm or other seed-rich perennials. Birds
will feast on the seeds during the winter. Don't mulch. Instead,
leave any leaves where they fall in your beds. Leaves provide
winter cover for protecting plants and beneficial insects. In
the spring, remove and compost any that haven't decomposed.
If the idea of an almost maintenance-free garden sounds attractive,
you can learn how to make your garden pollinator-friendly from
Penn State Master Gardeners at
Fall is a good time to test the soil. If your garden needs lime
or sulfur to raise or lower the pH, respectively, it will take
three to six months for these slow-acting amendments to become
effective. So, apply them now so that the soil is ready for next
spring's growing season.
Soil test results from Penn State lab
Soil test kits are available from your local Penn State
Cooperative Extension office. In Allegheny County, a soil test
kit costs $12 for the first kit and $9 for additional kits
ordered at the same time. The self-contained kit comes with
complete information for taking samples and understanding your
soil test results. Send a check payable to Penn State Extension
to Soil Test Kits, Penn State Extension, 400 N. Lexington St.,
Pittsburgh, PA 15208.