What fall garden tasks should you complete as your summer garden comes to a close? Whether you plant a fall garden or want to make sure your garden is ready for a spring planting, these 7 tasks will prepare you for your next gardening season.
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Pull Weeds and Add to Compost Before They Set Seed
This is probably the least glamorous of the garden tasks on the list, but I’ve found it to be so important. Pull your weeds and compost them before they set seed. In the late summer, you may notice weeds slowing down a little, but they are producing more flowers. As part of their life cycle, they want to set seeds while they can. But if you can pull these weeds before they set seed, you can prevent even more weeds in your garden next season.
If you can catch these weeds before they go to seed, make use of them and toss them in the compost pile. Late summer and early fall are the best times to add organic matter for the compost pile because you have many materials available. I love letting all of that organic matter break down over the winter, giving me a fresh batch of compost for my spring garden.
Remove Diseased Plants from the Garden
Remove all diseased plants, even in the middle of the season. The longer it stays, the more likely the disease, especially fungal spores, will cause problems for years to come. Remove the plants and destroy them; I do not recommend composting them.
But if you have plants that are not diseased, consider letting them stay. Not cleaning up the garden in the fall has many overarching benefits. You can read about how not to clean up your fall garden (and why) here.
Plan a Soil Test in the Fall
I highly recommend soil testing for the home garden. It gives you a picture of your soil’s health and you know how you should amend it for a healthier, more productive garden next season. I recommend doing a soil test in the fall because it gives you time to amend your soil if needed through the fall and winter so that it’s in great shape for spring planting. Read more about soil testing here.
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Replenish Soil as Part of Your Fall Garden Tasks
After your plants have taken up precious nutrients in the soil for the whole season, those nutrients need to be replaced. Here are a few ways to add nutrients back to your soil.
At the very least, you want to add mulch. It will prevent erosion. I prefer wood chips because in my experience it has, over time, contributed to the fertility, the tilth, and the health of my soil. I’ve noticed how my clay soil has changed as I’ve added mulch every year. If you have deciduous trees in your yard, you could also grind leaves and use it as mulch over the winter.
Add a Layer of Compost on Top of Soil
If you have compost, add a layer to the top of your soil. Over the winter it will slowly replenish the nutrients in the soil. In the fall, you don’t have to worry as much if your compost is completely broken down. As long as you don’t have anything planted in your garden, you can let the compost break down through the winter.
Plant a Cover Crop in the Fall Garden
Cover crops can help build the nutrients in our soil while helping to prevent erosion common in the offseason. How do you know which cover crop to plant?
First, you want to think about whether or not you need a winter-killed crop. If you plant to till your soil, this may not matter. But if you don’t till then you’ll want to make sure that your cover crops will die in the winter so you don’t end up with an invasive plant.
For more information on cover crops, I recommend this basic guide from Anna Hess, Homegrown Humus.
Collect Seeds for Seed Saving
If you plan to save seeds, you will want to collect your seeds. Some are very simple, like okra, black-eyed peas, beans, and watermelon, and I save these every year. Some years I get a little lazy and don’t save as many seeds, but I always regret not saving them when spring comes around.
Add Containers for the Fall Garden
While container gardening can present its challenges in the heat of the summer, container plants in the fall can thrive. Any kind of greens like lettuce, arugula, and spinach are great choices.
This year I was gifted a little greenhouse (like this one) that I will try to use to extend my season a little more with those containers. If you’re not ready for a full fall garden, try your hand with a few containers of fall crops.
Prepare Garlic Bed for Planting Garlic
Your last fall garden task is to start now preparing a bed for garlic. You will want to plant your garlic around your average first frost. Not everyone should plant garlic and you’ll want to consider this carefully. But if you do want to try planting one of my favorite crops, you can learn all about how and when to plant garlic here.
One Final Fall Garden Task
As you’re working on these fall garden tasks as your summer garden comes to a close, give yourself space to dream for next season. Often, we forget what we want to try next year. Write them down so when you begin planning your garden next year, your ideas remain top of mind.
What fall garden tasks do you do as you transition from the summer garden? Comment below!
Garlic Planting Cheat Sheet
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