Fall is an exciting time to be in the garden. Yes, it is the end of the current growing season but it’s the start of next year’s garden as well. But getting the best results next season and beyond begins with steps taken now as we clean up, clear out and get ready for spring.
First, it helps to understand why the clean up process is so important. Many pests and diseases will over winter in plant debris, if they’re given the opportunity. Removing these habitats improves our chance of eliminating numerous future problems. So a fall garden clean up should include the following activities:
• Cut back perennials. Cutting off the dead and spent foliage a few inches above the ground in the fall will not harm the plant.
• Remove spent annuals and seasonal vegetables. Unlike perennials, annuals do not come back from season to season so there is no reason to leave these in the ground. Pull them up, roots and all, and add them to your compost pile.
• Remove weeds and leaf debris. These are common places for diseases and pests to over winter.
• Compost only the healthy material. As you remove debris from you fall cleanup projects, be sure to add only the pest-free and non-diseased plants to your compost. Destroy any diseased plant material or remove it from you garden. Pathogens and insect pests can winter-over and return next year in a compost pile that doesn’t get hot enough.
• Take pictures and make notes. Document what was growing in your beds. This is especially helpful for perennials that will be cut back for the season. As more plants are added, having a record of what was planted will allow you to avoid injuring dormant perennials. Notes are also a great way to document what worked and what didn’t. While it is fresh in your mind this is a great time to gather you thoughts.
• Get a soil test. This is a great time to find out important information about your soil. Most reports include details such as pH level and nutrient analysis. Knowing this information in the fall is the ideal time to act on any deficiencies or amendments that may be necessary.
• Amend the soil with natural organic materials. (homemade compost, manure, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, greensand, etc). Organic amendments are a great way to improve the long term health of your soil. By adding them in the fall, they have time to break down into a form that plants can use in time for spring. Organic material is an easy way to achieve all the desirable qualities of healthy, productive soil in an environmentally safe way.
• Plant for next season. Fall is also the very best time to plant trees, shrubs, perennials, winter annuals, bulbs and cool season vegetables. The soil is warm and the air is cool, so less energy is required of the plant overall. The warmer soil will allow roots to become established and give the plants a better chance of looking their best.
This list is should get you started on practical steps you can take to having your best garden yet.