DIY Network

Cleanup and Compost Tips

Getting your garden ready for winter isn't a major chore -- but it will save you ample time and energy when the next growing season rolls around.

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Winter is really a great time to work

  • Winter is really a great time to work in the garden because there's lots of space and you don't have to rush like you would during the summer growing season. Ultimately, it's a great time to make a plan and to evaluate what worked well in the garden this past year and what things need to be changed for next year.

  • Within a few months, the garden will be warming up again and you need to be ready if you want to take advantage of the entire growing season. The nice thing about working in the garden during the winter -- when it's mostly empty -- is that every hour you spend cleaning, planning and organizing will save many hours in the spring.

  • There are several tools needed for a fall garden cleanup.
    - First, hand-pruners: these pruners can cut down plant stalks into small manageable pieces that can easily be thrown in the compost pile or into the trash.
    - Next, you need a good sturdy garden fork that can get under old plants quickly and easily. This is especially important if the ground has become cold and hard.
    - Finally, you'll need rakes to gather up the debris you pull out of the garden.

  • One of the most important garden aids you can have is a pair of sturdy leather gloves. They keep your hands warm, but they'll also protect your skin from the dried stalks left over in the beds. The best thing to do with any old plant is to remove it from the garden entirely. As plants break down, they can become hosts to many different bacteria and diseases -- and you can't afford to have unhealthy soil in the spring.

  • If you can, pull the whole plant out of the ground. If not, a good way to get old plants out of your garden is to cut off the main stalk about six inches above the ground. This gets the stems out of your way so you can see the bed and get closer to the root balls. Once the stems are cut, push your garden fork under the root ball and pop it out. You want to get as many of the old roots out as possible since they can be carriers of soil-borne diseases. Once all the plants are out, use the garden fork to turn up any additional roots.

    Note: Bacteria from plant stems can leave an irritated or itchy rash any place they touch your bare skin, so be sure to wear gloves whenever you're working in the garden.

  • Once the stalks and main root balls are gone, use a sturdy metal rake to pull out the small roots left behind in the soil. A short-tined rake can catch hold of the roots easily. Be sure to rake through the soil several times and from several different directions to get out as many root pieces as you can. You may want to rake up and down the bed in rows the first time and then move around to rake from side to side for the second pass. Everything you get out of the garden now will be that much less you will have to deal with next year and one less thing that can spread diseases.

  • When you clean out your garden, you’ll need to evaluate which plants are healthy and which are not. Never compost any sick plant, and if you're not 100 percent sure, don't risk it! This is especially important in the fall because the compost pile doesn't get as hot during cold weather as it does in warmer months. Without fresh green material, the compost doesn't have the energy it needs to get really warm. In short, a lot of bad bacteria and pests are killed off as a hotter compost pile heats up -- and this just won't happen in the winter.

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