Just like in the last blog post, “Preparing Your Outdoor Living Space for Winter”, autumn is a good time to start preparing your garden for the cold months ahead, that is- if you live in a location where the winter is particularly harsh. Here are a few recommendations that can help your garden thrive next season.
A good place to start is to clean up your garden by removing rotting and finished plants as well as weeds. These plants can bring disease, pests, and funguses, and can even be home to unwanted insect eggs. If these plants (weeds not included) are not diseased, you can put them into your compost pile or even burn them to add organic matter to your soil. Organic matter can improve soil tilth and overall health.
Be wary of invasive weeds, they can remain viable in a compost or weed pile. To prevent them from sprouting again, your best option may be to throw them into the trash or burn them.
Next, you may want to begin the process of preparing your soil for the spring time. Many people find themselves reserving this task for the following spring but now may be a better alternative. You can add amendments to your soil such as compost, manure, kelp, bone meal, and rock phosphate, that can start breaking down and enriching your soil early. This also gives these amendments the opportunity to become biologically active sooner.
Preparing your soil in the fall prevents you from having to wait until your garden dries out come spring. You’ll already have a head start. You can also improve the drainage of your soil throughout the off season by turning, tilling, and digging your soil before the extreme weather comes.
After adding amendments to your soil, you can use a covering such as a plastic sheet over the garden bed to keep the soil and amendments contained and less exposed to the risk of washing away with inclement weather. Another factor to think about is how to protect amendments below the active root zone, which can be extra susceptible to dilution in raised beds.
In the spring, all you’ll need to do is remove the cover and lightly till your soil.
You may also consider planting cover crops such as clover, rye, and vetch. These cover plants can help prevent soil erosion as well as break up compacted areas. They can also increase organic matter in garden beds and add nutrients. Legumes like field peas and clover can also increase the levels of nitrogen for your garden vegetables.
When using cover crops, it’s good practice to plant them about a month before the first killing frost. You may also want to consider that some cover plants are hardier than others so seek assistance in determining what type would be best for your region.
Pruning your perennials is also a key objective when cleaning up your garden and preparing it for next season. Make sure that you know which ones will do best with pruning as not all of them may need it. Do some research into what types of plants in your garden would most benefit from pruning in the fall. You wouldn’t want to impose disease and stress on plants that just aren’t ready to be pruned yet.
Now is a good time to divide and plant bulbs also. Look for plants that may appear to be overcrowded or in poor condition during the growing season and dig 6-8 inches away from the plant’s growing stalk. You’ll want to loosen the soil carefully and gently lift and separate the bulbs so that you can quickly transplant them elsewhere in your garden.
If you have already dug up your spring bulbs, you can now plant them again in preparation for next season.
Take the time to harvest and regenerate your compost during this time as well. Summer compost microbes are ready to be used to enrich your garden beds or as an amendment for deficient soil. By discarding your compost, you are now able to begin another batch, though you may want to insulate it to keep the microbes around longer. In the fall, you can use materials like sawdust, straw, and leaves as well as other active green matter to begin your next compost pile.
At this time, you can also replenish your mulch. It will be as much of a benefit in the winter as it is in the summer in reducing water loss, inhibiting weeds, and protecting your soil from eroding. It can help to regulate temperatures and moisture levels well into the upcoming season. Mulch can also help buffer vegetables from hard frosts and prolong the life of your crop, and as it breaks down, it helps to enrich your soil.
Now is a good time to assess your growing season. Consider what difficulties you may have faced as a result of choosing certain cultivars. By make a note of the results of this year’s efforts, you can apply your new found knowledge to better next year’s yield. The performance of your plants relies greatly on your ability to determine possible problems and solutions. Be sure to look into the quality of your soil as well as moisture levels in addition to the types of plants you’ve attempted to grow this season.
Don’t forget to clean and sharpen your gardening tools before ending this growing season. You can rejuvenate your tools’ lifespan by simply washing them properly and preventing rust with sanding. Using a basic mill file to sharpen items like hoes and shovels and a whetstone for pruners are also some good tips to keep in mind. Light machine oil on a rag can be rubbed lightly over metallic surfaces to seal the tools from oxygen and keep them in quality condition for next season.
By considering ways to prepare your garden for the upcoming months, you’re likely to benefit in a variety of ways. Not only will much of the work already be completed by next season, your yield may also greatly improve.
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