Fall Prep Primer for a Newbie

shar037August 11, 2013


This is my first year planting and I worked my tail off to make my yard beautiful!
Fall is near - I feel a bit terrified. (stop laughing!!)
Now what do I do?!
Possibly I missed it, but is there a post that outlines basic MN Fall Prep? Or if there is a website you could direct me to?
There is so much contradicting info on the web...so thought I'd ask you folks:)

Jap. Maple Tree (MN Hardy)
Arborvitae ( TREE & SHRUBS)

Fertilize? If so, when?
Remove mulch and replace it with anything?
When/if to prune Hostas?
How far down and when to prune Clematis?
Soil prep?

Thank so Much!

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"Fall is near - I feel a bit terrified." - Understandable for a newb, but calm down, sit back, and take the next couple weeks to enjoy all that you have worked so hard to achieve. (Although for a true gardener there is always something to tinker around with - nothing is ever "finished" in gardening.) The next big step in the gardening season will be the first hard frost sometime in September, maybe October if it occurs later than average.

If you were to do absolutely nothing to prep your lawn or flower/veg gardens before the snow flies odds are everything would still winter over just fine, you would just have a little more work come springtime to get things looking nice. Think of fall as the beginning of the next season, not the end of the current one - cleanup is in fact prep for next year and this way of thinking gets me fired up to get the work completed.

Lawn can be fertilized with a low nitrogen fertilizer in late fall if you want to. I never do - I do lawn stuff in spring and it works out just fine. Only critical chores with lawn in fall is to get the leaves off and mow it one last time as close to the first snow as possible.

Perennial flowers: Cut back stuff as it dries up. Don't rush it, everything finishes naturally in its own time. In late fall cover perennials with leaves but don't apply too heavily. Get them off in spring in April sometime so the spring weather can get the plants growing again.

Veggie gardens: Once frost has killed most things, start cleaning up and removing debris. In October put away garden accessories such as tomato cages and whatnot. Add compost to soil if desired to prep for next season, till it into the soil. Not absolutely necessary to do in fall but I do it. Drain and roll up hoses, winterize engines, etc.

You could start sowing fall veggies if you are into that. I just seeded lettuce, spinach, radishes. Perhaps a bit early but the weather seems to be conducive to it. Don't forget to plant fall items in October such as garlic, tulips, daffodils, winter onions, etc.

Every gardener has their own habits and methods, you just need to get your own system down. Once you do, things will "fall" into place and you will become like us older, more experienced folks who simply know to do things when they need to be done. :)

Always happy to hear from new gardeners!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 6:51PM
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Hi Tom!

Thanks so much for your help!
Good, basic advice is just what I needed.
I especially like the thought of considering Fall the beginning instead of the end.
Now that you have put things into perspective, I feel much better:)

Thanks Again,

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 9:53PM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

Hi Sharron,

A suggestion about the hostas... don't use a pruning tool on them. Hostas are subject to a virus that is easily spread by cutting one plant and then another. The best way to dispose of hosta debris is either to pull the leaves off by hand once they have become yellow and 'loose' at the bottom, or to leave the debris until spring when it is a small dry flat pile on the ground and can easily be picked up and disposed of.

About other perennials, whether you'd rather do cleanup in the fall or in the spring is one thing to consider. Another is whether you want to leave any of the stems/seed heads for either bird feed or winter interest. By winter interest, I mean that if you have some perennials that have pretty or interesting stems or seed pods, you might want to leave them through the winter because they stick up out of the snow and are pretty and more interesting to look at then just a snow covered yard.

Tom covered everything very well. He gives great advice :-)

Happy gardening!


    Bookmark   August 13, 2013 at 8:12AM
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Hi Joyce!

Great help...thank you!
I have heard so many different things regarding Hostas that my head is spinning.
Makes sense not to cut them..plus maybe I'll get some extra Hosta babies that way:)

Yes, Tom's is awesome. made me realize that I am supposed to be enjoying this...instead of re-inforcing my neurotic tendancies:)

Thanks Again,

    Bookmark   August 13, 2013 at 9:51AM
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One thing that wasnt mentioned. If your Clematis is new (a year or two or three) do prune it back after the first hard frost. (or very early in the spring before there is new growth-March?) There are different types of Clematis that need different types of pruning, but in general, all Clematis will do better if you prune them back to 12-18" the first few years, so that they will branch out more in the spring. I didnt know that and had long stringy plants the first few years. They look so much better now that I have pruned them back a few times.

Also - Generally better not to fertilize anything once August is here. Its not the time of year to be encouraging new growth.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 8:04AM
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Thanks SO much for the info. I'm a Florida transplant. I have beautiful flower beds planted by the previous homeowner and was terrified too. I'd hate to lose it all due to ignorance.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 9:54PM
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dandy_line(3B (Brainerd, Mn))

Wow-from Florida to zone 3a, that's a huge jump. I think I enjoy gardening much more here that if I lived in Z8+. The reason is that everything dies back in winter and in spring we enjoy a totally blank slate to work with. So many beautiful prairie species to enjoy that do not flop over in winter but disappear instead. And riotous color that didn't come from invasive non-natives. I don't have any fall preparation because the seed heads are precious for the bird life. And in Spring, I'm ready to get outside and exercise.
So just enjoy what it is for now. I hope you keep us posted about your new gardening experiences.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 5:41PM
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Lots of good responses! Thanks for the info general to all clematis. I am way confused about what to do, when, and to which variety of that vine!
On a similar note, does anyone know how to prepare honeysuckle for the winter! I have 5 new plants that did well this year, and I really need them to survive and go crazy next year.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 3:27PM
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