Spring cleaning is a yearly tradition for the inside of your house, but for backyard gardeners, fall is a major chore.

The cooler days and lower light levels mean the end of the growing season. Our annual plants are nearly spent now.

It can be depressing to watch the plants you’ve cared for the last six months die, but that’s just the nature of life on this chunk of rock caught in orbit around a nuclear-fusion-powered ball of hot plasma.

The sun will bring warmer days back in the spring, and then our gardens will once again be full of new life.

But to prepare for future plantings, it’s time to get cleaning.

Once your tomato vines and bean stalks have borne their last fruit, they need to be removed. Healthy plants can be composted, but I’ve always been wary of passing disease from tomato plants on to next year. I put them in the trash, but they can also be safely burned.

It’s also a good idea to clean and disinfect tomato cages, bean poles and garden containers. I use a 10% bleach solution to wipe those items down and then rinse them with a hose.

Root crops like carrots and beets can withstand a frost or two, in fact, their flavors are enhanced by the cold, but they should be dug before the ground freezes.

With the desired plants out of the way, fall is also the time to pull any weeds that may have been hiding along the rows. If weeds have taken over, or if you want to expand your in-ground garden, you can cover weeds and grass with a layer of plastic or cardboard. Through the winter, the light-deprived plants underneath will die, making planting easier in the spring.

Don’t neglect your soil in the fall because your plants no longer need care.

Tilling beds and adding compost, manure and other needed nutrients now gives the ground more time to soak them up than if you wait until early spring.

Get planting now if you’re considering a cover crop or something that should overwinter.

I’m putting garlic in the ground now. The cloves will have a month or two to establish roots before the winter sets in, and then the bulbs will grow like gangbusters in the spring.

Once you’re finished working the ground, clean your trowels, shovels and other tools and put them away out of the elements. Rusty tools with split handles won’t last as long as tools that are well-cared for.

The most fun part of the fall garden rituals for me is planning for next year. I’ve already noted what plants did well and what could have done better. I’m looking through seed catalogues to figure out what I should add to my lineup.

There’s no time like the present to get started on row charts and map companion plants.

Reach News Editor Nathan Baker at nbaker@johnsoncitypress.com.