I didn’t finish the annual ritual of spring housecleaning, and here it is time to think of fall garden cleaning.
Where does the time go?
I looked out at my rockery one morning in September to see emerging colchicum, the purple autumn crocus. My first thought: Those blooms are really early his year. I checked last year’s journal, and lo and behold the notation was written on Sept. 10. I turned and looked at the calendar, and the date was Sept. 9, just one day earlier. Looking back at the monthly weather graphs published in The Bulletin, the summer of 2016 was overall cooler than this year. That brings up the question of whether plant growth is generated more by temperature or by the plant’s inbred circadian clock. If you keep a garden journal, you will see the correlation from year to year.
My thoughts on fall cleanup are probably different than yours. I live in a semi-rural neighborhood with wildlife that allow me to rant and rave without attacking me. Instead they look at me and at each other, and I can almost hear them say, “The ol’ gal is at it again.”
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I do pull out all the annual vegetable and flower plants. This is important to help eliminate insect and disease problems you may have had. The plants should not be put into your compost pile. Our backyard compost piles generally do not generate high enough temperatures to kill weed seeds and disease cells.
This is a good time to assess your garden year. Did you keep a diagram or record of what was planted where? That is helpful in developing a crop rotation plan for next year. I neglected to plant as many annual pollinator plants in my vegetable garden as I usually do and at some point this summer I realized how much I missed seeing the insect activity and hearing their sound.
I have moved some herb plants out of the vegetable garden to a planter just steps from the house and found I used them more often.
Any new herbs will be added to that planter. I will continue to maintain the remaining herbs in the vegetable garden, allowing them to mature and reseed.
I need to relocate a container planting of iris to the iris bed. Once you start looking around, more and more chores are added to the to-do list.
If you have apple trees, the fallen apples need to be raked up. All fallen fruit need to be raked up to prevent diseases and insects from overwintering. If you are thinking of the good deed of providing food for wildlife, I would suggest raking up the fruit and creating a feeding station of sorts with all of it in a back area.
As I look around at what needs to be done before the snow flies, I think back to last winter and the struggle the wildlife had with the accumulating snow levels. That reflection helps me decide what goes and what stays. I’m inclined to leave more this year than last. It can always be cleaned up in early, early spring if the snowfall this winter is more like the normal snowfall — snow 4 inches and melt off the next day.
The dried seed pods of perennials and of weeds provided food for the birds. It probably fed some insects and the deer if they got hungry enough and the plant material was still chewable for them. After all, I’ve provided them with food, water and shelter for months, so wouldn’t it be cruel to yank the dinner plate away and offer bare ground?
Wise words from the Oregon State University Deschutes County Extension High Desert Gardening newsletter are to leave your ornamental grasses up in winter to provide winter interest in the landscape. Ornamental grasses are cut back a few inches above ground in the early spring. I don’t think there are many landscape plants as lovely as the ornamental grasses that are blanketed in a sparkling frost.
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