Fall Garden Cleanup

By Sara Sly, WSU Extension-Ferry County Master Gardener

Autumn maple leaf
As the weather begins to chill and the plants fade away, it is time to think about cleaning up the garden and our tools.

Time and elbow grease now will help get our hands into the dirt faster next spring.
In the garden, pulling back mulch and allowing the ground to freeze will kill many diseases, weed seeds and harmful insects/eggs. Frozen ground also helps prevent frost heaves from heaving plants out of the ground. This is a good time to add amendments to the soil such as aged manure, compost and organic matter like leaves, peat moss, etc.; weather and age over the winter will help improve the soil for healthy plants next spring. Once the ground is frozen for the season, spread fresh mulch or mulch that has been spread thinly over a tarp to kill any insects or weeds.

This is also a great time to take soil samples and send them to be tested for nutrients, minerals and possible chemical buildup that can harm plants. Laboratories are busiest in the spring and early summer when it can take months to get your results so send in the samples now.

Vintage garden toolsHand tools such as a shovel, metal rake, hand trowel or pruners need to be cleaned and stored to keep them working for many years to come. We all know that after each use it is a good idea to wipe off the dirt before we put away our tools, but how many of us remember to do this? A quick way to clean tools is to dip them in a bucket of sand several times or wipe them with a damp cloth. When preparing for winter it is a good idea to go a step further.

Tools with a cutting edge such as a shovel or pruners may need to be sharpened which can also remove nicks and cuts. Any tools with metal will be happy to get a quick wipe with a lightly oiled cloth before their winter nap. Wooden handles will last longer and be nicer to our hands if we sand then seal the wood with a varnish, tung oil or sealer. Taking care of these tools, and buying quality tools to begin with, help extend their usefulness. Storing the tools in an area where they are hung up and protected from the weather also extends their use (and makes them easier to find!).

Power tools such as lawn movers and trimmers need attention too. Clean the grass, dust and dirt from all parts of the machine. Read the owner’s manual to see what should be checked (spark plugs, belts) and what may need to be oiled or sharpened (blades, moving parts). Batteries will last longer if you remove them now, charge them and store in a cool, dry place. This time of year, professionals are more likely to have time to take care of our machines while we are not trying to use them. In the spring everyone is thinking about tune ups and repairs, so get a head start and save some time by doing it now.

Vintage gardener with barrowTaking time to do these simple chores now will make getting into the garden next spring quick and easy. Personally, I also prefer to take on these tasks while the weather is warm and the sun is shining rather than wait for spring and hope for good weather. In spring I can hardly wait to get my hands into the dirt and watch things grow, so the last thing on my mind is going to be taking care of tune-ups, sharpening or repairing tools. I’d much rather spend the time planting, watching the spring birds return and hoping for sunshine.

Next time, we’ll get down to the specifics of maintaining your tools and equipment.


One thought on “Fall Garden Cleanup

  1. Sara – This is great!! Would you consider speaking at the San Juan Spring Gardening Workshop April 26 in Friday Harbor. Many of the local MGs would love to hear a lecture on tasks in the garden. They titled it “So much to do, so little time”. If you are interested or have someone else to recommend please contact me at kyturri52@gmail.com. THANKS!

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