Essential Fall Clean-Up for the Yard and Garden

cleaning up a fall garden

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Traditionally, spring is the season for planting, gardening, and readying the yard for summer outdoor activities. There are some great advantages, though, to completing outdoor tasks in the fall. It's a good time to repair and winterize outdoor equipment and power tools and prepare the lawn for dormancy and spring growth. Plenty of perennials, shrubs and trees get off to a better start planted in the cooler temperatures of fall. This gives them a chance to root in without struggling to survive the heat and humidity of summer. Fall is also a good time to divide perennials and take cuttings.

Chores that must be completed at summer's end depend on your personal outdoor activities and preferences. As the growth season slows, though, it brings more time to work your way down that priority list and even catch up on projects that have been on the back burner. Use this time to look around and evaluate how your gardens performed. Start with some clean up and maintenance to get a headstart on the busy spring season.

Here are some tasks to do now that will put you on the mark and ready to go next growing season.

Fall Tasks for the Vegetable Garden

  • Sketch out or make notes on the garden layout to help with crop rotation next year.
  • Take a seed inventory and make a list of seeds and plants you'll need for spring planting.
  • Collect and save seeds from heirloom fruits and vegetables.
  • Plant garlic and shallots.
  • Remove and dispose of all the debris of your vining plants: beans, tomatoes, and cucurbits. Vines can harbor disease and while they can be composted when disease-free they are often better off in the burn pile.
  • Remove garden structures including tomato stakes, trellises, and weed mat that has not degraded.
  • Drain, coil and store soaker hoses.
  • Mowing, tilling, or a combination of both will rid the vegetable garden of noxious weeds that somehow always tend to win out by the end of the season.
  • Give the compost pile a final turn, add it to the garden and till it in.
  • Plant a fall cover crop like clover or add a layer of manure to enrich the soil and replenish nitrogen levels.


Unless you plan to sow a cover crop, wait until closer to the first frost date before mowing or tilling. When temperatures remain warm with sunny weather and a usual amount of autumn rainfall, weeds will sprout back up within a week, and you will need to mow and till again.

Fall Tasks for Flowerbeds

  • Dig up and store tender bulbs like dahlias, gladiolus, cannas and elephant ears that should be overwintered inside.
  • Plant early spring flowering bulbs like tulips, crocus, daffodils, and allium.
  • Collect seed heads for sowing in the spring or direct sow now.
  • Divide irises, daylilies and bulbs as needed.
  • Take cuttings to start new plants and overwinter them for planting in spring
  • Take a final harvest from the herb garden and preserve by drying or freezing
  • Cut back perennials.
  • Start removing dead wood and spent plant debris from flowerbeds. Remove weeds.
  • Hard prune woody perennials like lavender and rosemary and prune out deadwood and overgrowth from shrubs.
  • Apply a layer of mulch where needed to protect tender perennials and shrubs

Yard Maintenance Tasks for Fall

  • Rake dead leaves and other lawn debris and bag, burn or add to the compost pile.
  • Assess the condition of your lawn and treat and/or reseed thin and bare spots.
  • Begin acclimating plants you plan to overwinter indoors.
  • Drain hoses, coil and store.
  • Winterize water features according to manufacturer's instructions, including irrigation systems.
  • Winterize the pool and spa
  • Drain gas from power equipment like tillers, mowers, hedge trimmers and weed eaters or add a stabilizing product to the gas tank.
  • Clean, sharpen, and store hand tools such as garden hoes, shovels, trowels and weeders.
  • Clean bird feeders and remove old nest material from bird boxes.
  • Examine outdoor play equipment and repair and store or cover for winter protection.
  • Clean and cover outdoor furniture or store it in a shed or garage.


Isopropyl alcohol works well as a cleaning agent for hand tools. Apply a light coating of mineral oil and store them in a cool, dry location or with the blades inserted into a bucket of sand to preserve the sharp edge and help to discourage rust.