- Tending your gardens thoroughly in fall will help all the winter compositions to show at their best. There shold be nothing to detract from the pictures, even in this season. Most herbaceous plants are trimmed down close to the earth now, but any that still look nice, by flowering or being evergreen, perhaps by keeping their leaves on through many frosts or being graceful in the way they carry snow, are left in the beds. In earliest spring these valiant semievergreens will need to be trimmed down. for the new leaves to come up easily, but for now anything which contributes to the beauty of the place stays.
I treasure my latest flowering perennials, carrying me into December in Zone 5B, and then in mid December Helleborus Jacob ends each year by flowering white over his shining evergreen fronds, often agianst a background of snow.
- The cleaning process uncovers areas of ground which have not been seen since May, and invariably little hills and valleys appear in the grade contours of your planted beds.
Each valley represents a place where you, your resident creatures or organic processes removed some earth. Maybe you took a plant out for a friend, and forgot to fill in the hole fully, or a cat visited and made itself a comfortable spot. Through the green seasons, even though the floor is hidden, there are many effects of water, weeding, pets, squirrels, treading, ball retrieval and overenthusiastic blowers. One way or another, there are always pockets needing a bit of filling, and now you can see them.
Replenishing your Earth by Topdressing
- In a habitat undisturbed by us, the nutrients contained in the fallen leaves and bits of last years’ plants gradually and reliably feed the earth place from which they originated.
- In our tended landscapes, for the sake of continuing health and good grooming of the grounds close to our homes, we often remove this miscellaneous and typically messy looking endemic covering layer, and come back with a covering material having a more even appearance. This mulch that you use for esthetic reasons probably is not a balanced nutrient source for your plants. If it isn’t, you will need to otherwise feed the earth in an ongoing way. Please see my article on Earth Swapping.
- You will want to add the amendments to the layer of soil which lies below your mulch. You will be most effective and disturb your grounds the least if you wait until the covering mulch layer is thin anyway, and needs refreshment. After leaf cleanup is usually the just right time since invariably some of the mulch gets cleaned away too. At this point, add your topdressing ingredients; those compost, loam and any earth amendments (including fertilisers) that you may need in the beds.
- With a little delicacy of distribution, topdressing your perennial beds with earth x compost can even out the subtle grades in between the resident plants and not cover their sleeping crowns. I use a large aluminum scoop  instead of a shovel for better aim in such places.
- Late fall is the ideal time of year to take care of these matters, giving winter rain and snow time to melt the nutrients down into the earth for the good health of next year’s gardens.
- After topdressing, if particular plants would benefit from an insulating blanket, you can reapply mulch to their places as needed. In general, for larger areas you may want to wait till after the spring cleanup to freshly mulch for a clean summer appearance.
- A good fall cleanup will also help your earliest Spring pictures to show at their best. Hellebores, Crocus, Snowdrops, Squills and others may come right up through the snow, giving you little time to neaten up just before their moment to shine arrives.
Tending the High Ground
- To keep an ecosystem healthy, plants at the tops of grades typically need more addition of water, earth and nutrients throughout the year than do plants at the bottoms, who receive these things through the ground that lies above them.
- In the absence of natural leaf fall and decomposition processes, nothing feeds the top of the hill unless you do. The high ground places are typically the first to dry out, and so are also the first you should remember to water, throughout the year. The good effects of what you do there will naturally be distributed down the grade with time.
What will happen in April depends alot upon what you did the previous November and December.
 My favorites are the larger cast aluminum ones. I use one with an 11” by 5 ½” body, 4” handle and another an inch or so smaller in each dimension. They live outside the better part of forever.