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How to clean up your garden at summer’s end

These tips from Heritage Home Hardware will help you put your garden to bed this Fall and get it ready for a spectacular Spring

Is your garden signalling that a change in seasons is coming? Have you noticed that your once-green grass is beginning to fade or that the flowers have mostly gone? Before you know it, the leaves will have turned yellow, orange and red. 

Village Media spoke to Richard from Heritage Home Hardware in Sault Ste. Marie about why this is a great time to get a head start on your garden cleanup, as well as what exactly you need to do this Fall. 

Cut back your perennials 

Most flower gardens include at least some perennials and these plants are a great place to start. Inspect them closely: if you have any diseased plants, cut their foliage down to ground level. Be sure to discard any diseased material and remove it from the garden completely.  

While some plants require Fall pruning, others are better pruned in Spring. The latter will drop their seeds for next year’s growth.  

Fall pruning: 

  • Astilbe   

  • Bearded Iris  

  • Bee Balm  

  • Catmint    

  • Columbine  

  • Day Lily and other lilies   

  • Gaillardia  

  • Hostas 

  • Peony  

  • Salvia  

  • Solomon’s Seal  

  • Yarrow 

Pull out your annuals 

This is also the time to pull out the remains of your annual plants. Discard any diseased plants that have powdery mildew or white spots on them in your green bin. Those that are okay can go in your compost pile. 

Harvest all remaining vegetables 

Pick any fruits and vegetables before you discard the host plants. Even if your tomatoes, for example, are not fully ripe yet, some will ripen indoors. If your herbs are still healthy, you can dry them and use them over the winter. 

Save your seeds 

Saving your vegetable seeds is a good idea. If you’ve grown veggies like beans and squash, let them ripen and dry on the vine before you pick them. Richard recommends storing your seeds in a cool dry place, in labelled jars


If you aren’t already composting your fruit, vegetable and garden waste, Fall is the perfect time to begin. Composting is great for the environment; it also keeps your garden waste and organic matter from the kitchen out of the green bins. 

Getting started: 

  • Use carbon and nitrogen-rich items, like disease-free plant matter, fruits and vegetables that are past their prime, grass clippings and leaves  

  • Your compost pile should measure around one cubic yard. It needs to be big enough to allow microbes to efficiently break down the materials you add to it 

  • Turn or rotate the compost regularly  

  • A compost bin or tumbler makes aerating your compost easier and faster  

  • Tumbling breaks down and aerates the compost, producing results in as little as three weeks 

Clean and store your garden tools  

Taking good care of your garden tools means they can last you multiple seasons. Spend a bit of time in the Fall to clean them well, inspect them carefully and make any necessary repairs. The following maintenance tips can help keep your tools in top shape. 

Over the growing season, your garden tools can pick up soil-borne diseases and moisture, which can lead to rust forming on the metal parts. To clean them thoroughly, use a wire brush or some fine steel wool to clean off any accumulated rust and dirt. Make sure to take your tools apart so you can get into all the crevices too. Using a medium grit sandpaper on large tools such as forks, spades and hoes works well. 

When cutting tools are used regularly they need to be sharpened. For pruners, use a whetstone (in a curved motion) to sharpen the beveled side. You want to remove any burrs on the flat side of the blade—a little oil or water on the whetstone can help. 

If you are sharpening shears, loppers, shovels, spades or hoes, use finish and sharpening files, progressing from medium to fine grit. Stabilize them on a table or hold the blades in a bench vice as this can help you get even strokes. As for technique, push the file across the blade (and away from your body); don’t pull a file backwards over the blade. Keep in mind that each stroke should be diagonal, to ensure that the cutting teeth bite into the metal. 

Before you store your tools away for the winter, you’ll need to lubricate them. Use light machine or synthetic oil on tool heads and metal blades. 

The handles of your tools also need attention. Start by cleaning wood handles with a stiff bristle brush, then sanding any parts that are damaged. You can coat them with boiled linseed oil to prevent future splintering. For any plastic-coated handles, try to chip off any damaged coating and recoat them using a liquid or spray plastic.  

Once you no longer need your garden hose, turn off the hose’s water supply inside the house. Open the outdoor tap to allow it to drain any water into the hose. Remove the spray nozzle and allow it to dry fully before storing it away. Next you can disconnect the hose and let it drain completely, separating any joined sections. Now you’re ready to coil the garden hose in large loops, making sure there are no kinks, and store in your garage or basement.  

Please note that not all plant pots winter well outdoors. Pots made of stone will crack, especially those that have soil inside—it expands when frozen. Store any empty pots inside a garage or basement. 

Test, amend and mulch your soil 

This time of year is perfect to test your soil to determine if there are any deficiencies you can amend before Spring. Get a soil-testing kit to determine pH and nutrient levels. Based on the feedback you get from the kit, you can add manure, blood meal, bone meal, and cottonseed meal. To add protection for plant roots and evergreen foliage, layer mulch over your garden. 

Protect vulnerable shrubs and trees 

Did you know that insects can damage your trees and shrubs throughout the winter? Apply a systemic insecticide to the soil around them to keep them safe from pests. The insecticide is taken up by the roots and come Spring it will still be present when the pests start feeding again. It’s also a good idea to wrap your shrubs in burlap to protect them from the harsh winter elements. 

Store your garden supplies properly too 

Avoid wasting any leftover landscape materials by storing them properly so they’ll still be usable next Spring. You’ll want to keep excess moisture away while at the same time ensuring sufficient air flow. 

Keep bagged garden soil in plastic bins and store them in a dry shed or garage.  

With compost, you need to turn it over the winter to lift up that damp bottom layer, so it’s a good idea to put any excess compost into a bin you can access easily. 

Mulch needs air holes to breathe, so make sure to poke a few in your bags. These can be stored in a dry garage or shed over the winter. Bulk mulch can be placed on a tarp and covered with a second tarp, as long as you remember to leave a few edges free for air flow.  

Any fertilizer and pesticides should be well sealed and stored in a dry environment where the temperature is relatively stable. Climate control isn’t necessary but you do want to avoid any big swings in temperature, if possible.  

For more on getting your garden winter-ready, visit Heritage Home Hardware or call 705-759-5101.