How to Tame Your Jungly Late-Summer Garden

Don’t suffer the ugly anymore. Here’s how to give your garden a fall makeover.

Your poor, sad garden. The spent vines, stubborn weeds, and greens gone to seed are putting a pitiful spin on your backyard retreat. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some simple tips to tidy up your garden and yard, which will also help prep them for next year.

Bury the Dead

Nothing looks sadder than leggy tomato vines, yellow zucchini leaves, and dried-up perennials that long ago displayed their last bloom. So pull and prune the dead or dying plants in your garden. 

Bury spent plants in your compost pile; double-bag diseased and infested plants and place in the trash. (Empty mulch bags are great final resting places for these plants, so be sure to stockpile them in spring.)

If your tomato vines are still bearing fruit, keep staking and pruning them until the first hard frost, when they’ll likely die. And give the birds a break and leave some seed-bearing but spent blooms for them. They love sunflowers, cone flowers, berries, and black-eyed Susans.

Pull Weeds

This is the last time this season to pull weeds. Pluck them before they flower and send seeds throughout your garden that will rest in winter and sprout in spring.

If you have a mulcher, chop the weeds and throw them on your compost pile. If you want to be extra sure that weed seeds are dead, bag weeds in black plastic and place in a sunny place for a couple of months. The heat will kill the seeds. Then throw the cooked weeds on your compost pile.

Harvest Seeds

One way to cut garden expenses is to harvest and store seeds. One large sunflower, for instance, can provide seeds for hundreds of plants next spring. Here are some seed guidelines.

  • Harvest seeds from heirloom vegetables and standard plants.
  • Disease can spread through seeds, so only harvest seeds from your healthiest plants.
  • Don’t harvest seeds from hybrid plants, which often are sterile or will look nothing like the parent plant.
  • Only harvest mature seeds from dry and faded blooms and pods. Mature seeds are often cream colored or brown.
  • After seeds are dry, store them in envelopes or glass jars in a cool, dry place.

Gather Supports

Stack and cover metal tomato cages. Bundle wooden or bamboo stakes, and store in a dry place so they don’t rot over winter. And retrieve panty-hose vine ties that you can re-use next spring.

Instead of throwing out broken cages and stakes, repurpose them. Snip off remaining cage legs to use for pepper supports. Broken tomato steaks will support smaller plants if you whittle one end into a point, so it easily slips into the ground.

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