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How to Do a Fall Garden Cleanup the Right Way

A person raking leaves into a pile in the middle of their lawn.

It’s officially time to start thinking about your fall garden cleanup checklist. As the vibrant summer fades into fall, end-of-season garden cleanup is necessary to keep your garden at its best year-round.

Preparing your garden for the coming cold not only enhances its visual appeal but also contributes to its overall health and vitality. You can protect your plants, remove dead or diseased foliage, and prep your soil for next year.

Thankfully, fall garden cleanup doesn’t have to be difficult. To make it even easier, we’ve laid out a full garden maintenance checklist to ensure your garden thrives throughout the changing seasons.

Clean Garden Beds of Weeds and Dead Plants

A person weeding their garden bed while wearing white gardening gloves.

Clearing your garden beds of all debris and dead plants prevents pests and diseases from overwintering in your soil. It also provides a fresh start for spring planting and helps you get your garden beds organized after a healthy, growing summer.

Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and remove any weeds or dead plants in your garden beds. Add compost to the soil to enrich it for spring.

Berry&Bird Gardening Hand Fork

Tackle all your garden weeding with ease when you use a hand fork.

Collect Fallen Leaves for Natural Mulch or Compost

A person collecting fall leaves and branches in a bag.
BOKEH STOCK/Shutterstock.com

Fallen leaves can smother your lawn (unless you chop them up into small bits), but they provide great insulation and nutrition for your garden.

Collecting fallen leaves from your lawn and using them as a natural mulch for your garden beds or fuel for your compost bin is a smart, efficient garden maintenance step.

Gently rake up the fall leaves, creating a pile. Use a quality leaf rake to make the job easier. If you want, you can shred the leaf piles to help them decompose faster. Sprinkle the leaves around your garden beds or mix them with your compost.

65 Inch Long Garden Leaf Rake

Make your leaf collecting easier with a sturdy garden rake.

Prune Perennials and Shrubs to Prevent Disease

A person pruning a shrub with pruning shears while wearing blue gardening gloves.
Jurga Jot/Shutterstock.com

Make sure to include pruning in your fall garden cleanup checklist.

Pruning and deadheading promote healthy growth and prevent overgrowth that can make your garden look messy. It also removes diseased or dead parts, reducing the risk of pests and diseases carrying over into the next season.

Always use a clean, sharp pair of pruning shears when tackling your pruning tasks. Trim back perennials and shrubs to remove dead and overgrown branches. Make clean cuts at an angle just above a bud or lateral branch. Make sure not to over-prune, or you can end up hurting your plants.

Fiskars Bypass Pruning Shears 5/8

No garden tool collection is complete without quality shears.

Layer Mulch for Winter Insulation

A person layering mulch around the roots of their garden plant.
Jon Rehg/Shutterstock.com

Mulching during your end-of-season garden clean-up helps regulate soil temperature and moisture levels during the winter months. Mulch provides a protective layer that prevents extreme temperature fluctuations that can harm plant roots.

Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves, straw without weeds, or wood chips around your plants.

100% Natural Cedar Shavings

Here's one of the most popular options for mulch.

Compost Your Garden Waste for Next Season

A person layering garden waste over their compost pile.
larisa Stefanjuk/Shutterstock.com

Composting garden waste not only reduces landfill waste but also provides nutrient-rich compost for your garden in the future. It’s an eco-friendly and sustainable practice since you won’t have to purchase compost next year.

Create a compost pile or use a compost bin to collect organic material, including pruned branches, leaves, grass clippings, shredded leaves, and even kitchen scraps. Make sure you follow composting guidelines for proper decomposition.

VIVOSUN Outdoor Tumbling Composter

A tumbling compost bin can help you rotate your compost with ease.

Protect Your Sensitive Plants to Survive the Frost

Weather sensitive garden plant with a covering to help protect it against winter frost.
Richard van der Spuy/Shutterstock.com

Certain plants in your garden may need extra protection from harsh winter conditions. While some plants need to come inside to survive the winter, such as tomatoes and peppers, others need a covering.

Wrap sensitive plants like lettuce and spinach with burlap or frost cloth to shield them from the cold. Depending on how severe your winters get, you may need to cover more plants than you think.

Plant Covers Freeze Frost Protection

Protect your garden from frost with these freeze covers.

Clean Your Garden Structures for Next Season

A person takes apart a garden trellis.
Mariia Boiko/Shutterstock.com

Garden structures like trellises, arbors, and fences can accumulate dirt, debris, and dead plant limbs which can promote rot and decay over time. Cleaning them maintains their integrity and appearance. They also get them ready to use for your next planting season.

Scrub garden structures with a stiff brush and soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and allow them to dry completely before storing or applying protective finishes. If you see any of them starting to rust or break down, replace them with new ones so you’re ready for the next garden season.

Garden Obelisk Trellis for Climbing Plants

All your climbing plants will thrive on this decorative trellis.

Check and Drain Your Watering Systems to Avoid Damage

A garden water spicket with a green hose attached is leaking.

Fall garden cleanup isn’t complete until you address your plant watering system. This is a crucial task for end-of-season garden cleanup.

Freezing temperatures can cause water in hoses, pipes, and irrigation systems to expand and burst. This leads to some extremely costly repairs. Ensuring all your exterior watering systems are drained, disconnected, and shut off will prevent the issue entirely.

Disconnect hoses and sprinklers, drain them, and store them indoors where they’ll have more protection from freezing temperatures. For irrigation systems, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winterizing to prevent damage.

Flexon FR1225CN Light Duty Garden Hose

If your garden hose has sprung a leak, replace it with this heavy-duty option.

Clean and Store Your Garden Tools

Clean garden tools laying down flat on a table.

After you’ve tackled your fall garden cleanup checklist, you want to store all the tools you won’t use again until next year. Properly maintaining your garden tools ensures their longevity and effectiveness for years to come. It also prevents the spread of diseases from one plant to another.

Clean your garden tools with a wire brush and soapy water. Dry them thoroughly and apply a light coating of oil to prevent rust. Store them in a dry, sheltered location. Consider a tool organizer for easy storage.

CHARMOUNT Garage Storage Wall Organizer

Keep all your garden tools neat and tidy with this wall organizer.

A thorough fall garden cleanup routine is vital to maintain a healthy and vibrant garden. By following this fall garden cleanup checklist, you can ensure your garden remains in excellent condition throughout the winter, ready to burst into new life when spring arrives. So, roll up your sleeves, grab your gardening tools, and prepare your home for winter.

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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