Fall Garden Guide
After the summer bounty from your garden winds down, here’s how to get your plot ready to weather the winter, in wait for next year.
You’ve made quarts of simmering sauce from your bushels of tomatoes. You’ve shared your seemingly unending zucchini yield with as many neighbors as you could (and then some). Now your vegetable harvest is dwindling, and it’s time to button up your home garden for the approaching colder weather. Put these tasks on your fall garden to-do list.
Stretch your season. If you planted autumn vegetables like broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, you may be able to continue harvesting some of them until after the first few frosts. In fact, many of these veggies taste even better after a frost. “They’re less bitter and more tender,” says Melinda Myers, author of Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening and host of the Melinda’s Garden Moments syndicated TV and radio segments. If temperatures start dipping low a bit too early for your area, protect your remaining crop with floating row covers, which you can find at most garden centers and which act like an insulating blanket on cold nights.
Tidy up. Pull out spent veggie stalks before the ground gets too hard. You’ll not only save yourself some tough digging but also get a head start on creating a healthier garden for next spring. “If you leave dead plants in your garden, insects or microbes that have infested them can go into a deep dormant state and last through the winter,” says garden expert Joe Lamp’l, host of the PBS TV show Growing a Greener World and author of The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet. Instead, add finished vegetable plants to your compost pile. The heat from compost is usually sufficient to kill pests and harmful microbes.
Feed the ground that feeds you. Add organic matter, like compost, to soil so you’ll be ready to plant in spring. It’ll break down over the winter, making the soil ready to support your garden next spring. “Instead of hauling your fall tree leaves to the curb for pickup, shred them with a mulching mower and spread them on your vegetable garden,” Myers suggests. Leaves add rich organic material to the soil and helps improve drainage.
Sharpen up (your tools, that is). Spiff up clippers, shovels, spades, and other tools in preparation for the next gardening season. Remove dirt and rust from metal with a stiff wire brush and/or steel wool. Sharpen metal blades yourself with a file or sharpening stone, or take them to a professional sharpener (your local garden center may have referrals). Prevent new rust by coating metal surfaces lightly with household oil or WD-40. Lightly sand rough wooden tool handles; then protect them with a light coating of linseed oil.
Look back, plan ahead. Make notes of which vegetables did well this year and which ones didn’t exactly thrive (or your family wouldn’t eat). This is also a great time to get a soil test, since testing labs aren’t overly busy in the fall, Lamp’l says. Your county’s extension service can tell you where and how to send soil for testing in your area. The resulting lab report will detail the pH and nutrient makeup of your soil and offer suggestions for improving it.
Your most important autumn assignment of all? Kick back and enjoy a few months’ break. Spring planting time will be here before you know it!