Clean up time, aka late fall, is a joyful time in the garden. The weather is pleasant, warm enough to be inviting, cool enough for work. There are no bugs.
And there is major satisfaction in restoring order to what is usually pretty untidy by now. But before you get carried away, a few suggestions:
* Before you remove all the evidence, make a rough map/post mortem report that can be used for planning next year. Include relevant outside factors like deer predation -- which you'd THINK you'd remember but if you're like me you tend to have denial problems about the smaller, less painful losses. It's also helpful to note things like the amount of rain: lousy tomato taste, for example, may be blamed on too much water and the too little sun that implies. But that same rain is probably why the hollyhocks hit 10 feet.
These are actually the smaller hollyhocks, only about 7 feet; all my pictures of the 12 footers came out rotten. Use your imagination.
* When removing sick plants, don't forget to rake up underneath, especially around roses and peonies; diseased leaves are a prime place for bugs and diseases to winter over. Put all possibly infected (or infested!) material deep in the woods or on the bonfire.
* Healthy garbage can go on the compost, along with the lawnmower-chopped leaves, but it's even better to let it rot in place (lettuce, nasturtiums) or, if it has stiff stems, catch snow and protect crowns (delphiniums, Joe pye weed, baptisia), or if it has tasty seedheads (cosmos, echinacea) to leave them for the birds.
* Better-to-leave-it notwithstanding, the combo of aesthetics and prep-for-next year does demand removal of spent annuals like basil and marigolds. If you can bear to take the extra time, it pays to cut them down, rather than yank them up; leaving roots in place helps preserve soil structure and minimize weeds.
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