Gardening can be a chore, especially when you're still recovering from the summer heat and trying to find ways to beat back your fall allergies. But there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing a seed you planted sprout into a full-grown plant (or even better—a fruit or vegetable!). And now that fall is here, it's time for gardeners everywhere to start preparing their gardens for the winter. For some, this will mean tilling up last year's gardens, cleaning out old tools and seeds from storage bins, removing spent plants from beds and taking inventory on what's left over in pots on patios or by entryways—all before cold temperatures set in. If you want to get ahead of the game this year so that next spring rolls around faster than ever before (and maybe even sooner than expected!), check out these tips on what tasks need doing now!
Clean up the garden.
To get the most out of your vegetable garden, it’s important to do a thorough cleanup each season. This will help prevent plant diseases and pests from spreading into future seasons.
There are no shortcuts or magic bullets for making a successful vegetable garden. It takes time, effort, and lots of love for your plants—and that’s exactly what you put into this process: time and effort! Get to know your plants and become an expert on their needs. The more you know about the issues that affect your garden—whether it’s too much shade or not enough water—the better the results will be
Amend the soil.
The first step in getting your garden ready for planting is to prepare the soil by adding amendments such as compost, manure and peat moss. These organic materials help loosen clay soils, add nutrients and improve drainage.
If your garden has a pH of 6 or below and is not growing well (fewer than 50% of plants are growing well), you should consider applying lime to raise the pH level so that these plants can thrive again!
Plant a cover crop.
In late fall, sow rye or wheat on the soil in your garden to protect against erosion and water loss during winter. When spring rolls around, you'll be able to till it into the soil as part of your preparation for planting season.
Consider a plant swap.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to give back to your community, consider hosting a plant swap! This event is a great way for gardeners and farmers alike to trade plants that are not working well in their gardens for plants that might thrive better elsewhere. You can use this activity as an opportunity to teach others about gardening and healthy eating habits, too!
Harvest your herb garden.
You can also harvest your herbs throughout the fall and winter, but now is a good time to make sure you have plenty for use in cooking.
You'll want to snip off the leaves of your herbs with scissors or cut them down near the base of the plant. If you leave too much on each stem, it will continue growing and become woody. You can dry your herbs by hanging them upside down in bunches or laying them out on screens to dry for several days until they're very brittle (I like to tie my bunches together with string so they are easier to handle). Once they've dried, remove any leaves that look bruised or damaged before storing them in airtight containers.*
Harvest, wash and store your pumpkins and squash carefully.
Once your pumpkins and squash are ripe, harvest them. Don't let them sit on the vine too long or they'll get mushy. If you want to keep the seeds for next year's crop, cut the pumpkin into sections and scoop out the seeds; then spread them in a single layer on newspaper or paper towels to dry. Store in an airtight container.
Wash your pumpkins and squash carefully before storing in a cool place such as a basement or garage that doesn't have temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). Choose a place with low humidity so that mold won't form on the skin of your pumpkins and squash as they're stored over winter months—this will extend their shelf life by preventing rot from occurring.
Keep an eye on frost dates in your area.
What are frost dates? Frost dates are the first date of possible freezing temperatures for your area. These can be found through a variety of sources, including local news and websites that provide weather reports for different areas. If you live in an area that has a high probability of frost, it’s important to plant your garden according to the proper planting time for your region so that you don’t lose any plants to too much cold or heat during the growing season.
If you put in the work now, you'll be rewarded with an even more productive garden next year!
If you’re ready to get started, there are a few things you can do now that will make your vegetable garden more productive later on. By doing these simple tasks now, you’ll be able to enjoy an even better harvest next year!