5 Tips for Fall Yard Cleanup

Protect pollinators, build garden health, and prepare for spring with these simple strategies

Photo courtesy Adobe Stock

Photo by Susan Vineyard

We’re already well into autumn, even if temperatures continue to fluctuate 30 degrees. If you haven’t started already, now is the time to put your yard and garden to bed for the winter. Here are five must-dos to ensure a ready palette for next spring’s blooms.

Protection for Pollinators

Curb the urge to cut down or rake up your perennial flower gardens. Leave perennials, especially native and prairie plants including coneflower, sedum, black-eyed Susan and Joe-Pye weed—as a variety of birds (including goldfinches) will eat the seeds over the winter. Let flower seed heads ripen until they turn brown and split open: they’ll become shakers full of tiny seeds for the birds and self-sow for more flowers the following year.

Also, native bee species, which are in decline, nest in hollow plant and flower stems. Several butterfly species pupate and overwinter in plant debris. By letting dried stems, leaves and seed heads rest through the snowy months, you’re providing a home for next year’s pollinators. Leave a few leaf piles for pollinators, too.

Photo by Lijuan Guo

Cut and Divide

University of Minnesota Extension provides an excellent growing guide for the seasons. Through September, the guide recommends dividing peonies. According to Almanac.com, bearded irises and lilies can be cut back to between 3 and 5 inches in height. When cutting back perennials, including hosta, bee balm and phlox, wait until after a hard frost or two. The flowers or leaves might look dead, but the plants’ roots are still using energy from plant to prepare for healthy growth in the spring.

Plant Bulbs

Who doesn’t want a pot of bulbs or carpet of spring flowers erupting after a long hard winter? U of M Extension recommends planting spring bulbs through mid-November for a colorful spring fling in your yard. Plant larger bulbs about 8 inches deep; smaller bulbs, 4 inches deep. Plant in groups or beds for swathes of color, or scatter bulbs across in perennial beds for color pops in early spring.

Did you plant tropicals such as as cannas, dahlias, elephant ear, caladium or gladiolus this year? Be sure to dig them up before a hard freeze.

Photo by iMarzi

Water Well

Has autumn been dry? Did you plant any new shrubs or trees this year? Be sure to water any new plantings to prepare them for winter.

Mow and Rake

Before the snow falls, mow your lawn one last time at about a 3 inch height. According to the U of M, this is the best practice to maintain the health of your grass. If your yard is relatively free of fallen leaves, using a mulching mower to chop them up and let them stay on the lawn acts as a good fertilizer. Consulting a lawn expert is a great option as well.

Mowed-over or raked leaves can also be spread on perennial beds to protect delicate flowers, while providing mulch and nutrients. Leave a few leaf piles for over-wintering pollinators, too.

Photo by Kristen

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