Season Ending Garden Prep

October 17, 2006

Are you willing to do a little work this fall to save time and effort in the garden next spring? Want to make your garden as comfortable as possible during its winter slumber and ensure that it will awaken next spring well rested and ready to grow?

Want to prevent your garden plot from becoming a winter haven for weeds, insect pests, their eggs, and the remnants of left over produce that could overrun your garden with unwanted volunteers next summer?

Will you be ready and able to plant at the slightest inkling of spring, or will you be forced to wait until after the garden can be tilled before setting out those early spring transplants?

Well here’s a checklist of simple gardening ideas that can be implemented this fall to clean up and help build a healthier vegetable garden that’s enriched and revitalized when spring arrives. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a more productive garden that offers fresh produce far earlier and with less effort.

  • Fall Garden Clean Up: At the end of your summer growing season clear out all of the weeds, garden debris, spent vines, and any fruits and vegetables that weren’t harvested; rather than allowing this litter to remain in the garden over the winter.
  • Provide Cover for Wildlife: Leave a brush pile or similar cover in your landscape to provide shelter where birds and other wildlife can take refuge during harsh weather conditions. Also allow ornamental grasses and flower heads from plants such as Black Eyed Susans to remain standing and provide winter forage for wildlife.
  • Remove Garden Equipment: Remove and store plant stakes, tomato cages, garden fabrics, trellises, and any other gardening tools and equipment that is scattered about throughout the garden. A little care will reward you with a longer useful life and avoid the need to replace expensive gardening equipment that is lost or damaged.
  • Add Soil Amendments: Autumn is also a great time to add compost, mushroom soil, and leaves to the garden beds. Incorporating in the fall will give the soil amendments plenty of opportunity to decompose and mellow before it’s time to put those sensitive young seedlings in the ground.
  • Fall Tilling and Cultivation: If you till your garden during the fall, keep the cultivation shallow to avoid bringing weed seeds that were buried in the soil to the surface levels where they can germinate. I garden exclusively with raised beds which remain loose and ready to be planted with just a light once over with a garden fork or wheel hoe.
  • Plant Leafy Fall Greens: Now that the garden is vacant and inviting, why not plant a few fall veggies? Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, collards, mustard, and spinach will grow right into the winter months and provide you with additional harvests from the fall garden. In many regions they will even survive the winter to produce early spring greens.
  • Don’t Forget the Garlic: In cold climate areas fall is the best time to plant gourmet garlic, shallots, and even some types of onions. My garlic seed was planted just last weekend. The goal is to allow the seed cloves to develop strong root systems during the fall that will support rapid above ground leaf growth at the first hint of spring.
  • Sow a Cover Crop: Not interested in fall vegetable production? Then plant a cover crop to protect and enrich your garden’s soil over the winter months, as well as crowd out weed growth. Annual ryegrass is my favorite choice for a fall cover crop. Other good choices include winter wheat, oats, rapeseed, barley, and peas.
  • Apply Winter Mulches: Too late for you to sow a cover crop? Well you can still cover your garden during fall and winter with a mulch of compost, mushroom soil, or a blanket of leaves. A three or four inch layer of shredded leaves in particular will restrict weed growth and encourage earthworm activity.
  • Gather Organic Materials: Leaves, straw, spent corn stalks; fall is a great time to locate supplies of these and other organic materials for use in the garden and in compost piles. Shredding will make the materials easier to handle and utilize. I use a leaf blower to shred every leaf that I get my hands on during autumn.

Follow these suggestions this fall and your garden plot will be protected from the elements and erosion, while friendly soil organisms and earthworms work year round to improve the texture and fertility of your soil. You’ll also control weed growth, harvest more fresh produce, and get your garden off to an earlier start next spring.

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