According to The Farmer’s Almanac, this year’s autumnal equinox on September 22nd at 7:49 A.M. (PDT) was our earliest since 1896. Since then, our days have been getting shorter while our nights have been getting longer and that process will continue until the winter solstice on December 21st. It seems a pity that the days are getting shorter just when there is so much work to be done in the garden!

I know that most of you have already been “frosted out.” I, too, have had enough frost that the tender plants – tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, etc. – have “bit the dust.” My cold hardy flowers and vegetables are stilling going strong thanks to the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having, but I know that winter is coming, and it’s time to get the fall clean-up done. It’s time to “put the garden to bed” so that, in the spring, I’ll be ready to go as soon as the soil is warm enough to be worked.

In my garden, fall clean-up consists cleaning up existing garden beds and borders, cleaning and putting away gardening equipment and fall planting.

Cleaning up existing garden beds and borders involves more than just pulling up spent plants and feeding them to the chickens or throwing them on the compost pile. That certainly needs to be done, but, when the beds are bare it’s a good time to have a soil test done and make any amendments needed to insure good soil fertility in the spring. Make sure you cover the soil with a good mulch after fertilizing to keep your soil amendments from washing away into the lake or aquifer during fall rains or spring snow melt. Perennial and shrub borders should be weeded and mulched, but you may want to hold off with any fertilizing until spring since soil amendments at this time of year can cause new growth that will not survive the next below-freezing temperatures headed our way.

At Waterfowl Farm, most of the garden equipment consists of hoses, sprinklers and other watering equipment. These have to be picked up, drained, rolled up and tucked away for next year. Sadly, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” so this is also the time when I make a list of replacement hoses that will have to be purchased in the spring (or at a fall sale!). I also have some large pots and planters that have to be emptied, washed and stored for next season’s use. Finally, the machinery that makes it possible for me to maintain my little piece of paradise needs to be cleaned, sharpened (in the case of mowers) and tucked away for the winter.

The last big job is fall planting. Now, for those of you who think fall planting is an oxymoron, let me assure you that, even in the wilds of North Idaho, you can successfully plant perennials and shrubs in the fall. In fact, some plants respond better to fall planting! Obviously, we all know that bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinth require fall planting in order to meet their chilling requirement, but other perennials can settle in and get a head start for spring if planted in the fall. Keep in mind that, in the fall, the soil is warmer than our cold, water-logged spring soils so plant roots get busy growing and settling in faster. Just remember to water them in thoroughly and mulch for winter protection.

For a more comprehensive list of fall cleanup tasks, you can find all you wanted to know (and more!) in “Putting the Garden to Bed – A Fall Checklist” under Bits and Bobs (<— look left). Be sure to leave a comment below if you see something we missed!

Enjoy this lovely fall weather by getting out in the garden and getting ready for next spring. This winter, when you’re browsing through those seed and nursery catalogs with your feet up in the recliner, you’ll be glad you did! And just in case you don’t have enough seed and nursery catalogs, check out the “ABC Garden Group Recommended Seed and Nursery Catalogs and Websites” link (also under Bits and Bobs).

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