Our weather pattern continues to be a bit different this year, and it may not be too early to consider the start of fall garden clean up. If you have planted tropical plants out in the yard or in planters, they may be showing the effects of cooler nights, and perennials in the flower gardens and vegetables that like warmer weather are slowing down.
Rather than being a weekend gardener warrior and trying to get it all done at one time, consider taking care of the plants as they decline naturally, spreading out the work over a number of weekday evenings besides the weekends. Putting in a couple of hours, or less, during the week can really move things along. Tackle those plants that have really quit growing in the flower beds or those vegetables that are no longer producing. Examples could be the iris, bee balm, snap beans, and beets that have just gotten too old or insect damaged. Some of the early varieties of tomatoes have slowed down or have even quit producing. Summer bulbs like calla lilies, caladiums and even the cannas have started to slow, as they prefer warm weather. Pick a flower group or just one of your beds so that in a couple of hours you will have completed that project. You are more likely to start and finish a garden project if you can visualize the end.
In any yard, there will be garden debris that can, and should be, composted, and plants that have been attacked by diseases that should not be composted, but rather disposed of. Most of the composting we do is considered “cold composting,” which will not kill weed seeds or overwintering disease organisms, so be cautious what you add to the pile or bin.
Most of us have seen a time when our flowers and vegetables did not perform to our liking, and the weed population took advantage. This summer is no exception, and many garden beds are green with weeds. As the gardens are cleaned up, do not use the weeds with seed heads for composting. Some of the weeds are annuals and will not necessarily be any more troublesome next year than they were this season. There have been considerable perennial weeds establishing themselves this summer and those will be the ones to be concerned with during clean up. When pulling weeds, be sure you get as much of the root system along with the tops as you clean up the beds. Right now, they only have one season’s worth of a root system and that should help.
Plants that have been eaten by insects typically do not pose a problem and should be composted. As you add plant parts to the compost pile, remember to throw in two or three shovels of soil to mix with the green parts to be sure that the composting process gets off to a good start. This is easier to do when you break out the work into smaller pieces, adding soil each time you add to the compost bin.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.