How to clean up your garden for fall

garden tools and fall leaves

If your summer crops and annual flowers are harvested, you can begin preparing your garden for the spring growing season.

Working in your garden this fall will lessen the amount of work you’ll have to do in the spring before planting.

Pull up and cut back plants

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension says to remove brown and shriveled foliage before winter. Leaving plants and debris in the ground opens doors for disease to set in, and also provides opportunities for insects to lay eggs and for fungi to grow.

Plants can be composted, but inspect them first to make sure they’re healthy and not diseased. Chop up healthy plants for compost. Burn or dispose of diseased plants separately. If you choose not to put plant debris in your compost pile, you can till the plant matter into the soil to enrich the soil, according to University of Illinois Extension.

Ohio State University Extension recommends cutting off annual plants at the soil’s surface and cutting perennials above the crown. The parts of the plants that are cut off can be used as compost.


Dig up weeds that are still present in your garden to deter them from establishing seeds and growing again in the spring. Some insects will overwinter in weed debris, so it is important to remove weeds completely from your garden area.

Annual flowers

Just like with other plants, annual flowers can be removed if they have turned brown or shriveled.

There’s a chance that allowing certain annuals, like sunflowers, sweet peas and nasturtiums, will come back in the spring if they’re left alone in the fall. However, this is most likely to happen if winter is mild.

Amend soil

Once your garden clean up is complete, you should test your soil. The best time to test soil is either in the fall (September to December) or spring (February to April). Soil should be tested every two to three years. Contact your local extension office for soil testing services.

Waiting until spring to test your soil is fine, as long as you give yourself enough time before sowing seeds to improve your soil. Overall, the purpose of soil testing is to improve soil quality for growing.

Fall planting

If you’re not done growing for the year, Farm and Dairy online columnist Ivory Harlow explains how to prep for fall gardening and plan when to sow seeds according to expected frost dates. Root plants, like carrots, radishes, cole crops and leafy greens, should be planted at the end of summer for fall harvest. Others, like garlic and onions, can be overwintered and harvested mid to late-summer.

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Katie Woods grew up in Columbiana, Ohio. Katie likes reading, writing, enjoying the outdoors and DIY projects.



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