A season marked by the falling of leaves, autumn sits between the prolific bloom of summer and the stark desolation of winter – a twilight realm of light and dark. As the weather cools off, plants become languid and gardening activity starts to wind down. Many gardeners tend to neglect their gardens during the fall season, yet it is important to attend to these garden tasks and stay ahead of the game. Prepare your garden for a productive autumn by removing spent plants, mulching, and planning for next year’s planting.
1. Remove Spent Plants and Debris
Remove dead or infected debris from your vegetable beds, but don’t dispose of it in the compost bin. Not only does it appear unsightly, but it can potentially harbor dormant pests and diseases that can wreak havoc later on. Wait until the temperature is consistently 50 °F before beginning to minimize disturbing or killing any overwintering pollinators hidden inside. Deadhead spent blooms, remove non-hardy bulbs, and cut down spent annuals to the ground level.
2. Amend the Soil
The best time to amend your soil with soil amendments is during the fall, when the weather is conducive and plants are finished growing. Soil amendments can help remedy nutrient deficiencies present in your garden beds. Organic material can be readily sourced from fallen leaves, worm castings, or other woody debris. Used as both a growing medium and nitrogen-rich soil amendment, worm castings help improve soil structure by increasing aeration, improving drainage, and supplying beneficial soil microbes. For a boost, add a large handful of castings to raised garden beds every 30 days.
3. Add Compost to Your Garden Beds
Add two to three inches of compost to your garden beds to improve the soil quality. This should be done after spent plants are removed and crops are cut to the root level. While compost is typically added during late fall in October or in the spring during the growing season, in-ground composters allow you to gradually add organic matter to the soil.
Designed to be used in Vego raised garden beds, Vego Garden’s worm composter is an in-ground composter that enables you to compost in your garden bed. Vermicomposting is designed to solve many problems prevalent in traditional composting systems, such as unpleasant odors and fluctuating temperatures. The holes in this worm composter allow earthworms to move freely in and out, allowing them to dispense nutrients into the soil over time. Earthworms are available to purchase online or in bait shops.
4. Rake in Leaves
Jumping in leaf piles may be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean that they should go to waste. Rake fallen leaves from turfgrass to prevent matting and mold. You need not be fastidious in your approach – leaving some leaves on the ground can provide insulation to perennials and wildlife. Many overwintering butterfly and moth species depend on those insulated crevices to complete their life cycle, and will root in leaf litter for refuge.
What to do with leaves? They can be raked into garden beds as mulch or shredded into natural fertilizer. These leaves can also be layered using the hügelkultur method – a cost effective way to fill raised garden beds. Decaying logs, woody chips, and other rotting debris form the basis of a hügelkultur garden bed, all of which are abundantly available during the fall.
5. Begin Your Fall Garden
Many fall crops are planted during late July or August, so it is wise to plan in advance what you want to grow. Staples include groundcovers, low-maintenance perennials, and shrubs, but some gardeners opt for a more brilliant display. Rustic shades of red and gold may reign in the fall, but bold fuchsias and crimson continue to dazzle. Refer to frost dates and local weather conditions for exact planting times.
6. Tend to Container Plants
Although container gardening tends to get neglected, they offer bountiful opportunities for a vibrant fall garden. Refresh scraggly containers bogged down with withered blooms with new ones. Experiment with dynamic combinations by layering plants with various heights and texture. Contrast the striking purples in ornamental kale with the silvery foliage of Dusty Miller; pair bronze-hued leafy plants with colorful mums; situate fluffy ornamental grasses next to squat coralbells to add dimension. Classic pots and containers will suffice, but take your gardening to the next level with this cascading raised bed. Its tiered design cements itself well in an entryway, weaving a tapestry of color throughout.
7. Start Preserving Your Harvest
Whether it’s spicy kimchi or orange marmalade, there’s merit in preserving your harvests. While the skill of food preservation may seem like a bygone relic of the past, it can help you save money and become more self-sufficient. It is recommended for beginners to start with herbs, which can be dried in racks or hung in shady, well-ventilated areas. Great care should be taken when preserving canned items, which can become breeding grounds for poisonous bacteria if not processed properly.
8. Plant Fall Crops and Prepare for Next Year’s Planting
Cool-season crops such as peas, kale, leafy greens, and spinach thrive in fall gardens. After you’ve cleared the garden of debris and added the appropriate amendments, it’s time to start your fall planting. Planting in succession, which ensures a steady harvest, helps optimize space in your garden beds. Extend the growing season with useful extensions such as raised beds, cover systems, and row covers.
It is also time to prepare for spring by setting down spring-blooming bulbs, shrubs, and perennials. Like with any planting endeavor, it is crucial to keep in mind frost dates and growing zones that may affect your plants. Although the waiting can be tough, the drudgery of winter eventually falls away to the splendid beauty of spring flowers, months in the making.
9. Update Your Shed
At best an afterthought and at worst repositories for trash, sheds have garnered a gloomy reputation, usually as an eyesore in the garden. However, a well-designed shed can improve morale as well as offer a respite from gardening. Building or updating a shed may seem daunting, but when done correctly, can greatly enhance one’s backyard. There are many unique designs that can increase the aesthetic value of your yard. Reduce unnecessary clutter by storing essentials in the shed, and protect your supplies from temperamental weather conditions.