Generally, Fall isn’t considered the best time to garden. However, with a little planning and foresight, you can have a garden that yields well into the winter months. If you’re just trying to produce some extra vegetables or even want some natural Fall decorations, these easy tips will help you get there.
Fall is a wonderful time to work in the garden. It’s not too hot and there’s still plenty of daylight to get things done. With that said, Fall is the perfect time for those small general maintenance tasks around your garden. Clean and store any tools and containers no longer in use. It’s a good time to clean up after the busy warm growing season and to prepare to make sure winter doesn’t do any new damage.
Hoses and Pots
Two items that can potentially hold moisture and end up damaged, or even causing damage to crops and structures, are hoses and ceramic pots. You’ll want to disconnect hoses from their spigots wherever possible. Insulating the spigot with a hose bibb helps keep creeping temperatures from getting inside and doing damage to your plumbing. Ceramic pots can hold water that ends up cracking them in the frigid temperatures.
Palms, ferns, orchids and other delicate tropical plants will need to be brought in and stored for the winter.
Unless you take some extreme and impractical steps to winterize parts of your garden, there’s next to no chance these tender plants will survive even a slight frost. Instead, they’ll provide your home with some nice green during the grey months of winter.
Divide and Prep Perennials
Housekeeping has been the theme for Fall so far, and with good reason. Fall is an excellent time to plant shrubs, trees, and certain flowers. They have little growing demands for the season and it allows them time to develop a healthy root structure before the winter takes hold. Dividing them by growing season also means healthier plants come spring and summer. The more delicate perennials will need to be topped and bulbs brought in for proper storage.
There’s some debate over how ‘clean’ a garden should be. Anything that is diseased or providing a bed for fungus should be promptly removed, but some of that old plant matter and leftover foliage from your summer season can be left behind to feed wildlife and promote insect diversity.
A good general rule of thumb of when to plant bulbs for the following spring at least 2 weeks before the first frost. This will let them better establish their root structure and prevent transplant shock. When planting in the UK it’s best to give an additional two weeks to a month on top of the recommended hardiness zone just to make sure the more intense autumns don’t stunt the plants before winter.
All those Fall leaves are wonderful sources of nitrogen. It’s also a good time to distribute compost for all those freshly-planted perennials. It not only provides important nutrients for the soil but also acts as a barrier from the cold winter air.
Mulching your beds offers a quick and easy weed deterrent for the winter. Not only will it help protect your Fall harvest, but it also helps retain crucial soil moisture in drier areas. 1-2 inches is generally acceptable around plants and beds, but no more than 3-4 inches even for weed control as it can provide a habitat for pests.
Different varieties of rye seem to be the preferred choice for a temporary and hardy cover crop.
Buckwheat is also a popular choice as it tends not to last the winter and is perfect to mix into your new garden come spring again. Grasses tend to smother the land, protecting topsoil, while legumes help fix nitrogen in the soil. Earlier in the Fall season is a great time to get cover crops started for the following seasons.
If you’re still working out of a raised bed or even a heated greenhouse then you’ve probably already planned out your Fall gardening schedule. Sturdier row covers are a must for anyone braving the Fall season without an enclosed structure. For smaller gardens that only have a handful of plants, even a bedsheet can provide temporary protection against lighter frosts.
Earlier in the Fall is the perfect time to plant some of the more delicate broad-leaf vegetables.
It’s the perfect time to plant some pumpkins to have ready for Fall decorations. Lettuce, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts also love the early autumn cool nights.
Some of the hardier greens like spinach and chard can survive even a frost or two and sometimes taste better after. Root vegetables like beets and carrots will do just fine up until the ground begins to freeze for winter. It’s also a good time to prune any trees you may have planted in previous years.