Don’t think of fall as the end of the growing season – think of it as the time you begin to prepare for next year’s garden. Before the ground has frozen solid, it can be delightful to be in the garden and a little cleaning up and planning at this time of year will ensure next year’s garden is off to a great start.
Putting the garden to bed each fall is important for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious of cleaning and tidying up for aesthetic appeal, it’s important for reasons that are not so obvious as well. A great spring garden next season begins with steps you should take now.
Cut back and clean up. Many pests and diseases will persist in the soil and plant debris over winter, if they’re given the opportunity. Removing spent annuals and vegetable plants from the garden improves your chance of eliminating numerous future pest and diseases that would otherwise survive on that dead plant material.
Cut back some perennials. Cutting back perennials now makes the garden look neater and saves time next spring. But leave those with interesting shapes and seed heads for winter interest and to feed and shelter birds.
Remove spent annuals and seasonal vegetables. Pull them up, roots and all, and add them to your compost pile, unless there is any sign of disease. Then dispose of them in your garbage.
Remove weeds and leaf debris. These are common places for diseases and pests over winter. The less hospitable you can make the garden for winter hardy pests, the fewer problems you’ll have come spring. But don’t just throw your leaves away: they are a great source of nutrients for the garden and help to amend the soil texture. Mulch them by running over them with a lawn mower and then add to your compost pile or use to top dress your cleaned-up garden beds.
Take pictures and make notes. As the garden winds down for the season, there is still time to document what was growing there. This is especially helpful for perennials you will be cutting back for the season and spring-flowering bulbs you want to plant. As you add more plants, having a record of what was planted will allow you to avoid injuring dormant perennials and bulbs. Notes are also a great way to document what worked and what didn’t while it is still fresh in your mind.
Winterize containers. Move plants that cannot withstand frost to a greenhouse, garage or basement. For those containers too big to move, keep some bubble wrap handy to wrap around the pot and the plant during particularly cold weather. You don’t want to encourage new growth during this time, so don’t add fertilizer and keep water to a minimum.
Do a soil test. Fall is a great time to find out important information about your soil. It is also a great time to add amendments. Natural organic materials great for amending soil include: homemade compost, manure, blood meal, bone meal, seaweed, mulched leaves, cottonseed meal, greensand, etc. Organic amendments are a great way to improve the long term health of your soil. By adding them in the fall, they have time to break down into a form that plants can use, just in time for spring.