Fall clean-up chores: what to do now, and what can wait

As we near the end of the 2014 garden season, I’m having my annual dilemma: do I tidy up the garden now or wait until next year?

I’ve long preferred to do my clean-up in the fall. I once read that it’s more efficient to wait until the start of the new season. While it’s true that most perennials are easier to trim back after a long winter, waiting until spring just makes me feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Maybe you have the same feelings about this.

What kinds of tasks are important to do in the fall?

Dispose of diseased plants or fruits instead of composting them or leaving them in the garden to potentially spread disease to other plants. I find it's especially important when it comes to growing our apples organically. Anything that had pest or disease issues get tossed into the trash.

Trim back extra-long rose canes that might whip around in winter winds so they won’t damage the plant. Leave any other rose-pruning until the spring since it encourages tender new growth that would be susceptible to winter kill.

Grafted roses will need their graft unions protected before the soil freezes. Mound soil or a thick layer of pine needles, straw or mulch around the base of each plant to a depth of about 12 inches.

Instead of cursing those leaves falling from the trees, appreciate them for the gift they are. Shredded leaves make great additions to compost piles or when used as a mulch. If you have more leaves than you know what to do with, pile them up or bag them and share them with other gardeners. They'll be only too happy to take them off your hands!

Fall is an excellent time to divide most perennials as the plants will have all winter long to develop a strong root system. And what’s better than free plants?

If you're wondering whether you should prune your raspberry canes now or later, the answer is either. You can prune them anytime now or wait until late winter or early spring. I recently filmed a video, explaining how to prune raspberries; here's a link to it on my YouTube channel.

One of the most important tasks we all need to do is to make sure our trees and shrubs are well-watered as we head into winter. That will prevent the leaves from drying out and help plants better tolerate those colder temperatures. I'm personally rooting for lots of snow this winter because it acts as an insulating blanket. I realize that's not a popular thing to wish for but I'm doing it anyway! Unfortunately, the weather folks are forecasting an El Nino winter for us, which means below-average moisture... oh well.

If you love garlic, plant some this fall. It’s easy to grow, provided you follow a few simple rules. Purchase disease-free seed garlic from a local garden center or online source. Loosen the soil in the bed to a depth of 8 inches and incorporate some compost into it. Separate the cloves and plant each one with the pointed end facing up at a depth of 2 inches. Space them 6 inches apart. If you've planted more than one variety, be sure to label them. I always think that, come spring, I'm going to remember what's what. That's not always the case! 

Cover the bed with a few inches of mulch to prevent the soil from heaving during the freeze-thaw cycles during the fall and winter. In early spring, move aside the mulch when you see garlic sprouts and watch it grow.

Most other garden tasks can wait until late winter or early spring so you can set them aside and enjoy your well-earned rest.