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Fall is upon us and, with it, a new set of tasks for the active gardener. In addition to keeping up on the falling leaves, there are other end-of-summer clean-up jobs to be done, like mulching and planting cover crop. We also plant bulbs in October, as a little kiss goodbye to summer and a promise for the next spring. Don’t forget to harvest and carve your pumpkins (or bake pie and toast the seeds)! Enjoy the colorful trees and the crisp fresh air as you transition the garden from summer.
Fall clean up
The autumn garden is full of spent annuals, finishing vegetables and lots and lots of falling leaves. If you live in an urban area, the leaves seem to come from every tree in the neighborhood, settling on your garden. Leaves should be raked and especially kept off of the lawn, to prevent the grass from rotting. Pull out all dead plant material, including finished annuals and any dead flowers. It’s time to clean up the mess and put it to good use!
- The mulch pile: If you have overwintering plants or bulbs, a few inches of leaves at their feet offers insulation and protection from the winter elements.
- The compost pile: If you don’t want to use it as mulch, dump it all in the compost bin. The worms and critters will turn it all into finished, useable compost by spring.
- The yard waste bin: If you have no use for it in your garden at all, chuck it in the bin to hauled away and recycled!
Mulching is an important step towards preparing the garden for winter. Mulch can be placed over perennials that have died back, bulbs that have just been planted, fall vegetables and evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. Winter mulch must be thicker than mulch intended to cool in the summer. Winter mulch is designed to keep the soil temperatures even and to keep roots from being damaged during the cold. Therefore, heavier material and more of it is recommended: several inches of wood chips, newspaper, leaves and grass clippings may be applied to the base of plants and the soil around it. This is a great chance to recycle some of the dead plant material that comes out of the garden in the fall, including fallen leaves and pruned branches. You can also come down to the nursery to purchase bark chips for a more attractive, polished look. You can learn more about the benefits of mulch in the August section of the Gardening Calendar.
Spring bulbs add such life and color to the garden! As we say goodbye to the warm weather, we plant bulbs to have something to look forward to! Fall is the time to plant bulbs for spring. Place bulbs in the ground when the soil has cooled but frost is still several weeks away. Come down to the nursery to see all the varieties we offer: Daffodils (Narcissus sp.), Tulips (Tulipa sp.), Hyacinth (Hyacinthus sp.) and more! These will thrive well in our climate and spring to life when the weather warms next year. This is also the time to plant garlic (Allium sativum), for an early summer harvest the following year. Garlic will remain dormant most of the winter then shoot up in early spring, maturing in June for a fragrant harvest.
Transitioning the Vegetable Garden
Harvest all your pumpkins, squashes (Cucurbita sp.) and any remaining tomatoes (Solanum lycopericum). The hard-shelled squashes can be stored in a cool, dark place for use throughout the winter. Tomatoes need to be eaten, frozen or canned as soon as possible!
When all the summer vegetables have been harvested, pull up the entire plants and shake the soil off the roots. The finished plants can be added to the compost pile for next year.
If desired, you can plant a quick-growing cover crop, in that space left behind, like rye or clover. These crops will hold the soil in place throughout the winter and can be tilled into the soil or added to the compost pile in the spring to add organic matter. Another added bonus of clover and other legumes is that they fix nitrogen into the soil as they grow!
Be sure to mulch and insulate your fall crops (salad greens, root crops and cruciferous vegetables) to keep them warm throughout the winter. For more information on shielding fall veggies from the cold, check out the August section of our Gardening Calendar. There, you can read about implementing cloches and cold frames. But, it’s also good to spread a few inches of bark, wood chips or straw around the base of plants, to insulate.