Fall Clean Up: The Dirty Deed

Ahhh…Fall. How I love to hate you. This is such a confusing time for gardeners. Or maybe it’s just me. At one moment the Fall colours overwhelm me and are spectacular against a crisp, blue sky and then utter desolation fills me as the knowledge I am saying goodbye to some of the plants I have watched grow throughout the season. This sounds a bit dramatic, however, the habit of checking plants daily and taking in their beauty is one that is hard to break. While I love the colours, sights and smells of Fall, the impending departure of plants can be so very difficult.

Now I am not sure if you caught that in the last paragraph, but I did say “some plants.” I do have many perennials that I simply say, “‘See you later,” and wait for them to go dormant knowing they will be there in the Spring to greet me again. It isn’t as hard to say goodbye to them. Sadly, in our climate the annuals are only around until I absolutely have to pull them. So begins the nastiest job I can think of: Fall clean up.

With me I hope and pray we will get a killing frost and I will then look out the window on a dreary day to see blacken, wilted leaves. YES! I can pull them without too much guilt. This year, I wasn’t so lucky. Apparently the petunias and even the Canna Lilies survived the first frost making my job of pulling them even harder. I usually begin with my pots and every year I curse myself for having 32 pots. Why do I need 32 pots??? A question I will leave to another day for sure. I had every intention of pulling the Canna Lilies, cleaning and drying the tubers and storing them in my basement along with the water plants. However, I have discovered my basement is far too warm and I would likely end up with mushy, rotted tubers. So I decided I needed to try a shorter variety of Canna Lily next year and added the entire plants to my compost. The pond plants were harder as they cost so much and it seems like such a waste. Not only is our basement not cool enough, creating a pond to store the pond plants was not an option. I do not want the humidity issues this could create and nor do we have a lot of space. So I have tried an experiment and likely it will not work, but the plants would have been thrown out otherwise. I dug a trench in one of my flowerbeds and after cutting the tops of the pond plants, I sank each pot into the trench. After covering them with soil, I added a shredded bark mulch on top. I will await Spring and update then on their survival.

The pond is quite shallow so must be emptied, which my wonderful husband does so kindly every year. I don’t bother cleaning it all out and scrubbing it down in the Fall as the winter will only bring more debris. It is much easier to clean in Spring and set up the pump then. Why do a job twice? All the pumps were pulled, drained and scrubbed down. I keep those in a dry spot throughout the winter.

After a few frosts I finally and grudgingly pulled my petunias and snapdragons in the front bed. This bed is about 30 feet long and approximately 2 feet wide. Yes, I know I should be using metric, but I consider myself to be part of that generation where the metric system was brought into Canada during our formative elementary years and hence many of us can “speak” two measurements. I digress…….After pulling the annuals, I had my husband mow over the plants and then empty the mulched leaves and flowers back onto the bed. Why waste the nutrients? Since I don’t use pesticides of any sort, I feel quite comfortable adding this rich source of plant matter to my flowerbed. Being the soil was a bit wet, I decided to leave it until Spring. A decision I will most likely regret when the rush of Spring planting begins.

Now to my beloved hydrangea! Last year due to an injury, I was unable to cover a beautiful hydrangea shrub and lost most of it to winter kill. I was determined not to have the same thing happen this year after replacing the lost bush. I have built a stake frame around the hydrangea and wrapped burlap around the stakes creating a screen around it. I wasn’t finished and decided adding shredded bark mulch inside the little screen and thus covering the hydrangea would add further protection. I intend to cover it with snow as soon as there is enough. So the yard is cleaned up, trees watered in one last time and the hose drained. It ends.

I love the way Fall creeps up on us and exits with a final wave of colour and delightful scents. And at the same time I dread saying farewell to some of the plants that I have nurtured and visited on lazy summer days. I take many photos of my flowers, not as a means to show off my growing prowess, but as memories I visit on those deeply cold days of January and February. The flowers in those photos stir summer memories and encourage me to plan for next year’s beauties that will once again fill my soul with awe.

Hydrangea cage in progress
Hydrangea cage in progress
Mulched snapdragons and petunias
Mulched snapdragons and petunias


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