JoAnne Skelly: The importance of fall cleanup

Good yard sanitation in the fall is as important to year-long plant health as proper planting, watering, fertilizing and pruning are. This is particularly true for next year’s crop of vegetables and fruit. Remove or cut back all the plants in the vegetable garden that are done for the season. Plant parts that are not diseased may be composted. Get rid of old veggies or fruits on the ground. These can harbor disease and/or pest organisms for next year. A friend told me she cleaned up under her pear tree last year and finally had beautiful scab-free pears this year.

Raking leaves is an important fall sanitation chore. Leaves deep on a lawn can cause disease or rot problems next spring. Mowing over leaves that are free of disease and insects will shred them. Then, you can add them to compost piles, use them as mulch in garden and flower beds or under shrubs and trees. One problem using leaves, whether whole or shredded, is that they often blow away in the wind.

There are differing opinions on cutting back perennials now or in spring. I like to leave the dried flowers of yarrow, sedum and ornamental grasses for winter interest. I sometimes allow perennial flower stems to remain until spring because they trap snow for the plants for extra winter moisture. There are other reasons to let stems remain until spring. Hollow-stemmed plants like bee balm provide places for native bees to hibernate. Caterpillars like the seed pods of milkweed while birds love old sunflowers. However, do get rid of any foliage or flower stems with diseases such as powdery mildew or with insect infestations. Iris should be cut back. On the other hand, some gardeners simply like the neat and tidy look of perennials that have been cut back.

You might save seeds from your flowers to spread in other areas or to give away. I save seeds in paper envelopes or paper bags so they won’t rot and mark each bag with what they are and when I harvested them. Some flowers, such as hydrangea, yarrow, dill and others, can be used for dried arrangements to enjoy all winter.

Removing weeds now, whether still growing or dead, eliminates overwintering sites for insect pests and reduces potential insect populations in the spring. In addition to pest reduction, weed-free areas look better.

Set up the yard now for healthy plants next year with good fall cleanup.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment