In search of a garden clean-up how to

When I was in high school, my parents embarked on a major home renovation. They closed in the carport of our 1940s-era modernist house, and turned it into a dining room and foyer. They knocked out the wall between the teeny, outdated kitchen and combined the original dining room and kitchen into an eat-in kitchen with a waist-high counter around the kitchen table.

Part of the counter became the catch-all for anything made of paper: junk mail. Real mail. Newspapers. Manuals for a variety of small appliances. When we’d have a dinner party, we’d carry the six or eight piles into my parents’ bedroom and put them all on the floor. When everyone left, we’d carry everything back out, and resume normal operations as a family of pilers. I don’t remember a time when the piles ever really went away – they just got shorter from time to time.

Please note, we had full use of all areas of the carpet in our house. This was a nexus of clutter, not a symptom of a disorder.

If there’s any question about my genetic status, it is answered by the fact that I have my own piles. One, of books, on a shelf in our living room. One, of papers, next to my desk on the floor. One, of magazines, on a shelf in the kitchen.

It’s not that I don’t like things put away in their place. But when the choice is between piling and completely putting away, I’m a piler.

But here’s the thing. With the garden, I don’t have that option. There’s still lettuce growing, and we can put off the clean-up process for a few weeks, probably, but not forever. At some point, it’s going to be too unpleasant to be outside for long. Even though there are still peppers and eggplants and tomatoes actually growing out there, defying the laws of nature and the odds of time, soon, action will be required.

Part of this is related to the fact that we rent, rather than own. It’s not like it’s our yard that we’d be leaving scraggled up.

I know I’m going to need to pick a weekend day and go out there and take care of things. I can’t just pile up the containers, filled up with dirt, in a stack. (Although, it must be said that Steve suggested that we do just that…) I can’t wait and deal with them in April.

The trouble is…I’m really not even sure where to start. Can I leave any of our plants in the ground? And what do we do with all the dirt in our container festival?

I’ve looked around for good, consolidated resources…a how-to, perhaps, for first-time gardeners. But I haven’t found the right thing quite yet.

Commenters, you’ve come through before on this little adventure. How do you wrap the season in your vegetable gardens? What resources have you found to help you through the transition out of fall and into winter?


10 Responses to “In search of a garden clean-up how to”

  1. 1 Kalyn October 14, 2006 at 6:24 am

    Roght now I’m dealing with major garden and yard clean up issues myself. And I own, not rent, so I will have to face it next spring if I don’t do it now.

    One thing that makes a difference is whether you’re going to till the garden areas next year. I till my garden every spring which means any plants that are left get plowed under and probably are even slightly beneficial. I pull out the big plants though and throw them away.

    This is not a fun job and I don’t really have any tips for making it easier.

    There’s no reason not to leave the dirt in the containers until next spring when you’ll want to plant something else there. Otherwise I’d say you want to clear everything out. You could pile it up for the start of a compost pile if you have room. I turned the west 1/4 of my garden (remember, this is a big garden) into a compost area where I can just throw clippings and I’ll just pile up the plants there where (eventually) they will turn into compost.

  2. 2 kitchenparade October 14, 2006 at 6:56 am

    I’m rather casual about garden (flowers …) clean-up. It always gets done … but some times not til February. I have learned, however, over the years, to learn which plants create ‘winter interest’ and even when the fall clean-up actually happens in the fall, leaves their stems, flowers heads, in place. Autumn Sedum. Black-eyed Susans. A heavy-fronded astilbe. The last couple of years, I’ve even moved these into specific spots simply for their winter, not summer, garden glory.

    Another quick note: The very best garden tool is my notebook that I can carry into the garden. After killing/losing more plants than you can imagine, I started taking notes, by garden, what was where (and if new, incl the info from the tag), when/how long it bloomed and how it looked next to whatever was next to it, how it thrived vs just did okay. With five big garden areas, shade, part-shade, one small sun garden, it really helped me learn the rhythm of the light and the seasons. I do the same for pots on the patio, the long bloomers and the little spring teasers that whimper out by Midsummer.

    OH: did I say a quick note? I take it back. One thing I will do this year that I didn’t do last IS to pull up lots of the ‘garden deco’ stuff, pots, trellises, etc. It’s a pain but if they stay in place, boy it takes on a hillbilly look around that I don’t appreciate, my kind neighbors probably don’t either. It’s a pain but it’s also good to replace the dirt in pots every year …

    BTW: I think today’s my day, we had a light frost early in the week so a couple of gardens are ready for attention. Thank you for helping me make the day’s to-do list! : – )

  3. 3 Lydia October 14, 2006 at 7:02 am

    Cleaning out the garden is like all cleaning chores — you put off getting started, but feel tremendous satisfaction when it’s done. And you’ll want to look out at an orderly garden over the winter, when you can see it through the snow! I leave some plants (tomatoes and herbs) to “rot” in place and compost into the soil over the winter (I turn them under lightly, just to make sure they are in contact with the soil). Big stuff I pull out and toss into a compost pile. Even a small compost pile will decompose overwinter and in the spring you’ll have that lovely compost to spread into your garden. Take the dirt out of pots, spread it on the garden now, wash the pots, and start fresh with them in the spring.

    Then, sit back with a glass of wine or a mug of hot cocoa, and a sweet treat, and congratulate yourselves on what a great garden clean-up job you’ve done!

  4. 5 SugarCreekFarm October 14, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Turn a pig or three onto it, to eat up remaining vegetables and get a head start on tilling. (Maybe your rabbit could step in here?) Pull out the tomato stakes, and cattle panels that we use for trellis. Hook up the manure spreader and fertilize the garden. (You’re certainly welcome to come up and get some free “fertilizer”, if you could stand the 3-hour ride back with that stuff in your car!) Ask my dad to come over with his tractor and chisel plow after he’s done with his field work and turn everything under.

    Probably the most unhelpful comment ever :) But I’m with you on the lack of motivation to get these things done. I’m ready to just hole up in the house for the winter!

  5. 6 Tracy October 15, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way: What’s worse than cleaning it up now is cleaning it up next spring. Next spring, the last thing you’ll want to be looking at is the detrious of this fall. As much as a pain in the neck as it is, do it now so that when it’s time to start planting those things that can be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked,” you won’t have to deal with a bunch of gross and rotted old plants left over from this year.

    Basically, no vegetables will survive until next year, whether in the ground or in a pot. There are some herbs that will/may survive: oregano, thyme, mints, tarragon, chives, and maybe rosemary (it doesn’t survive in Minnesota, but I always assume that you’re lucky in Iowa and can overwinter it). If they’re in pots you can either put them in the garage or leave them outside piled up with leaves/straw. Wait until they freeze before covering them – the idea is to keep them frozen so that they don’t go through freeze/thaw cycles too early in the season next spring. You don’t need to water them, unless they’re in the garage and it’s heated, then you might have to (someone else would have to answer that). I’ve always let everything freeze solid so I don’t have to do anything with it during the winter.

    As for the soil in your vegetable growing pots, like kitchenparade said in her comment, I would just dump it, either in a corner of the yard, a compost heap, in a flower bed, behind/around a tree, or in a woods nearby. I know it seems like if you dump the soil that the piles would just be too big, but once it’s spread around, you see that you don’t have all that much. I’ve tried to re-use potting soil, but it just doesn’t work. The plants have sucked up all the nutrients, and because they were in pots there really wasn’t any way for it to regain many new nutrients. Even if you kept the soil and dumped in a bunch of organic fertilizers next year, your next-year plants just won’t grow as well as they would starting over with new soil.

    As for dealing with the dead and dying plants, you can compost anything that wasn’t diseased or had insect problems, but make sure to throw away anything that did. I’m never sure which insects can overwinter, so I tend to err on the cautious side and throw away anything that might have eggs or larvae that could come back next year. And rake up all the dead leaves, stalks, etc., because they can also harbor disease/eggs/larvae and infect things next year.

  6. 7 inadvertentgardener October 15, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    You guys are the best! Kalyn, Alanna, Lydia, Kelli, Tracy, engtech — this is all really quite helpful. I’m still going to put some of this off a little bit…maybe until next weekend…while I see whether our greens can get a little bigger or not, but once I get through that, I’m definitely going to start in on this — this is a great list of chores, and really helpful. I’ll keep you posted!

  7. 8 Home and Garden Decor Guy October 19, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    This is so typical of me, going in the other direction but I make no excuses for it.

    Everyone has given some great cleaning tips for the transitional period, but what about the gardening tools we use to do the cleaning with?

    They too have to be kept clean and ready for next spring. Gardening tools can be quite expensive, so it’s in your best interest to look after them and get as much mileage as possible.

    One thing that always used to kill my gardening tools was rust and decay after improper cleaning and storage at the end of the fall season.

    So, as well as doing the cleaning, spare a thought for your tools which you’ll need again sometime and keep them clean.

  8. 9 inadvertentgardener October 21, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Home and Garden Decor Guy, you’re so right about the tools. They’re on my list, too…my list that I still haven’t gotten to. The weather’s just been so crappy here!

    Luckily, I don’t have that many tools to ruin. But still…I need to take care of them. You’re absolutely right.

  1. 1 Potted worms « The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on November 8, 2006 at 7:34 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Getting in touch

Need garden advice? Then you probably shouldn't send me an email.

Also, please note that this site has now relocated and will not be updated. You can find me at the new and improved location.

Take a look back…

All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

Drop in & Decorate

Bake. Decorate. Donate.
Free guide tells you how!