Fall Garden Chores – Thoughts About Keeping a Manageable List

I was invited to speak at a women’s group last evening about what to do in the fall garden. This is a topic I found easy to prepare as fall has always been one of my favorite times to be in the garden.

To be honest about it, because our climate is so mild in the winter here on the north Oregon coast, we begin our gardening tasks in February. By late September, I am ready to get rid of the dying plants, clean the pots for storage and put the tools away so I can take a break from yard work. Of course, by next February, I will be ready and anxious to be outside once again, getting my hands in the dirt, looking for sprouts of perennials and planting new plants.

Keeping a Fall Garden To-Do Lists

Scrubbing Clay Pots
Clean terra cotta pots with a mix of one part bleach to nine parts water. Scrubbing with a nail brush will help get the soil from the sides (Photo: Carla Albright)

To start fall clean-up – I explained to the ladies – I always create a “to-do” list so I can keep on task. Otherwise, I would be flitting from one job to the next, not getting anything truly accomplished. You know:“Oh, I need my rake… must be in the potting shed. Oh, what a mess this potting shed is! I should clean it out right now. Oops. There is that stake I needed for the lilies. I’ll put it where I can find it next year right now…. Oh. I should clean that hoe before I put it away. Where is my sandpaper? No sandpaper, but there are some weeds outside the potting shed door that need pulled.”

In the meantime, I have forgotten why I needed the rake and they whole yard is a mess with half-cleaned tools and piles of pulled weeds.

Managing Priorities – by due date and needed muscle groups

As I make my list, I try to prioritize what really needs to be done today and what I can leave until next week. And as I prioritize, I also try to divide the tasks into those that use small muscle groups (weeding, deadheading, light pruning) and those that use large muscles (raking, digging, heavy pruning). That way I can alternate large and small muscle groups so that I don’t overdo.

I also don’t try to get everything done at once. I set aside a few minutes or an hour every day to work in the garden. Otherwise I would spend three or four hours at a time and be too tired (or sore) to appreciate what I have accomplished.

Of course, a lot of what gets done will depend on the weather cooperating. Gone are the days of gardening in the rain just to have the job done!

A Sample List

Having said all that, the priorities on my list for the coming week are as follows:

  1. Cut back the hosta since they are turning brown. I need to do this before they get all slimy. (small muscles)
  2. Prune the dead branches from the Escallonia so they won’t fall during winter winds. (large muscles)
  3. Put out slug bait to kill as many as I can before they start to mate and go underground to lay all sorts of eggs. (small muscles)
  4. Rake the leaves from the lawn. (large muscles)
  5. Pull the last of the buttercup weeds from the lawn. (small muscles)
  6. Compost the annuals from the hanging baskets. (large and small muscles)  But I will only do this if the nights have gotten colder and they are looking shabby.
  7. Clean out the terra cotta pots, dry them in the sun, and store them in the potting shed. I like to put newspaper or paper towels between the pots to protect them. (small muscles)
  8. Clean the patio furniture and garden art and store for the winter. Note what will need a coat of paint next spring so I can have the paint ready when the weather warms.

Now that’s a list that should keep me busy!

The last thing I do each fall is to sharpen and clean the pruners, loppers, shovels and trowels so they can be stored for the winter.  Then I rub them with a paper towel dipped with vegetable oil to keep them from rusting.

What other fall gardening chores do you at the end of the season?

Sharpen your pruners with medium grit sandpaper. I like to keep a new piece of sandpaper in a zipper bag in my tool bucket so I can sharpen the pruners as I use them (Photo: Carla Albright)

I did get some good questions from the ladies, like when do we prune roses? (Answer: it depends on where you live and how bad your winters are. On the Oregon coast, I prune mine at the end of October so the canes won’t break in the wind, and then again in February to stimulate new growth.)

Another question dealt with the timing of mulching. I mulch now so the ground stays warm longer, but I remove the mulch in the spring so it won’t keep the soil too cold and damp. (Note for gardeners in cold climates – mulch is often put on after the ground becomes frozen to keep the ground frozen, thereby preventing freeze-thaw cycles)

Please share with me what sorts of chores you do at the end of the gardening season. For example: what are your priorities? 

What do you hate to do the most? What is your favorite part of gardening in the fall?

~ Carla Albright, Tillamook County Oregon Master Gardener