As summer winds down it’s time to focus on important fall gardening chores. This includes preparing your vegetable garden for winter, weeding and mulching.
Plant greens, radishes and other cool season veggies this month for fresh harvests through the early winter. Give tomatoes a final feeding with compost tea or fish emulsion to help them ripen before frost.
Prepare for Winter
Summer’s scorching heat, pest pressure and weed battles can be exhausting. Thankfully, the cooler weather and lighter work load of fall makes it a great time to get back into the garden and finish up tasks to prepare for winter.
In vegetable gardens, harvest any remaining crops like green beans and squash before the first frost. And don’t forget to plant some fall veggies, like kale and carrots.
While most perennial flowers and shrubs start to go dormant in fall, their roots are still actively growing until the ground freezes. So make sure to keep them well-watered, especially if it is dry in your area. In addition, replenish or add a layer of mulch to protect root systems from winter conditions. Also, remove any diseased leaves or stems from perennials and bring house plants indoors before nighttime temperatures drop. You can compost these items, or toss them in a leaf pile to provide a rich addition to your soil next year.
Whether you grow vegetables, herbs or flowers, a thorough clean-up before winter will save you time and effort in the spring. Pulling out weeds before they go to seed, bringing indoors tender plants like dahlias, gladiolas and cannas that will not survive the cold, raking up debris, bagging or burning unwanted plant material and adding it to the compost pile will all make gardening in the spring easier.
Be sure to remove diseased vegetable and flower garden plant material before frost or bury it in the garden to prevent fungal spores from overwintering and infecting your new crops next year. In addition, remove and destroy diseased leaves and fruit.
Don’t clean everything up though — some things, like grass clippings, raked leaves and well-rotted manure can help improve your soil in the fall. Just make sure all manure is a minimum of one year old to avoid salts that can burn the roots of young vegetable plants.
Mulching conserves soil moisture, moderates soil temperature and suppresses weeds. It also protects perennial flowers and shrubs from winter frost and wind. In clay prominent regions, mulch reduces soil compaction. Mulching is a good idea for vegetable gardens as well.
Be careful when choosing the type of mulch you use. Some organic mulches like straw or hay may contain noxious weed seeds and can be hard to control. Some mulches like grass clippings become a slimy mess and can encourage surface weeds. Woody mulches such as shredded bark and wood chips enrich the soil as they break down, though too much can make the soil too acidic; applying garden lime will help rebalance it.
Some gardeners use living mulches, such as a clover or alfalfa mix, to insulate the ground over winter and add organic matter to the soil. These grow all winter, can be tilled in before planting for an added infusion of nutrients and then replaced every spring.
As the growing season winds down, gardeners can give vegetables that do well in fall a boost with a heavier application of fertilizer. Broccoli seedlings, for example, benefit from this extra feeding before they go dormant. Also, broccoli transplants started in late summer aren’t subject to the random light frosts that might plague spring-starts.
The cooler weather of autumn makes it a great time to clean up garden tools, plant bulbs and prepare beds for winter. Fall garden cleanup reduces the number of disease spores and insect eggs that can overwinter in debris left in planting beds and containers.
Fall is also the best time to snip flowers such as coleus and geraniums for indoor arrangements. However, it’s important to gather the cuttings before nighttime temperatures drop too low. Otherwise, they won’t root and will die. This is also the last time to dig up caladium bulbs, dahlia tubers and elephant ear corms for winter storage.