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Marin IJ Articles

It’s fall, time to clean up your garden

  • Jane Scurich
  • Tomatoes looking a bit sad? Petunias barely flowering? Sounds like it’s time for the big fall cleanup!

    Growth slows down when temperatures cool and daylight hours decrease. While fall is known to be one of the best times for planting in our Mediterranean climate, it’s also a time to plan for a healthy spring. As Benjamin Franklin once said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    Ready to start? Gather your supplies: Pruning tools — and disinfectants to clean the tools when moving between plants — container for compost, container for diseased plant material for landfill, and a plan to get the job done. Don’t put infected vines and plants into your compost. Remove any plants suspected of having a fungus. If you compost diseased material, you risk re-infecting your garden next season.

    Clearing debris is not only an essential function of garden hygiene; it’s also an important part of fire safety. Garden maintenance — a lean, clean and green garden-scape — can be more important than plant selection.

    Cleaning the summer veggie garden will help protect next year’s crops from pest and fungus infestation. Disinfect your garden supports — tomato cages, poles and trellises — to help prevent any lingering disease from returning.

    Once your vegetable plot is cleared, consider planting a winter cover crop such as fava beans, alfalfa or vetch that help fix nitrogen in the soil and improve soil structure. If you are planting cool season crops, enrich the soil with compost before seeding and add calcium for cruciferous plants (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, cabbage and similar green leafy vegetables).

    Summer flowering shrubs should be completing their bloom cycle by now. Remove dead flowers and prune to control plant size and maintain a natural shape. Trim branches away from your house. Dead, dying and damaged branches can be removed at any time. Thinning growth will allow more light to reach the lower branches and air to better circulate. Just be cautious to not remove more than a third of a plant’s growth at any one time.

    Fall is also an ideal time to cut back spring- or summer-blooming perennials to encourage next season’s growth. Cut stems just above a node, 3 to 6 inches from the ground. Remove all dead and dying stems and tidy up the area.

    Many annuals are nearing the end of their lives. Assist their inevitable decline by sending them to the compost. Winter annuals are available to replace their bright color, but you might want to consider breaking this seasonal replacement cycle by planting trustworthy perennial natives in their place.

    I’m sure you’ve heard that some leaf debris can turn into healthy garden mulch, but the debris of a number of plants including roses, camellias and fuchsias, should be removed and not composted. Debris from roses provides shelter for larvae of nasty rose pests, including curculio and rose snails. But wait until winter to prune your roses and once again clean up fallen leaves.

    Camellia and fuchsia debris also harbors unwanted pests and fungus. Remove fallen leaves and replace the mulch around plants to prevent fungus from overwintering.

    Once your garden is cleared of dead, dry vegetation, a layer of mulch will help protect your soil from erosion and keep weeds at bay. For planting areas within 5 feet of wooden structures, consider inorganic, nonflammable mulch such as gravel, rock, concrete pavers, stone, brick chips or decomposed granite. Look around your neighborhood for ideas using stones and gravel for an attractive edging. For other areas, shop for mulch such as arborist-composted wood chips. Avoid highly flammable shredded redwood, also known as “gorilla bark,” shredded western red cedar, shredded rubber, medium pine bark chips or pine needle mulches.

    For more information on fungal disease, pruning, the use of mulch and most everything garden related for our local climate zones, go to marinmg.ucanr.edu.