by Georgie Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dreaming of a gorgeous and productive garden next year? No better time to get started on that then the fall before.
Here’s our list of five fall garden chore tips to inspire a more beautiful and productive garden for…next year!
#1 – Be Honest – What Worked and What Didn’t in Your Garden?
What plants and crops did great for you this year? Plan to plant more of those.
One of the easiest tricks of successful gardening is figuring out what your garden naturally just grows really well. And then planting LOTS more of those plants. Or different cultivars, related plant species or plants that like similiar conditions.
For instance, did you plant a rhododendron that took off beautifully with hardly a second thought and impressed all the friends and neighbors? More of those then. Plus, all their plant cousins and good-friends. Azaleas, camellias, ferns, hostas, hellebores, columbines and essentially the whole list shade-loving and ‘forest soil’ friendly plants.
But maybe you are really wanting a productive vegetable garden and that just didn’t seem to happen this year. Why? Think about the conditions that your plants didn’t seem to like and how you can change those.
Was your soil too wet in the spring when it was time to plant? You might need to add drainage or build raised beds.
Did your plants seem spindly and weak? Did you have enough sun in your vegetable garden location? Can you change your spot, or remove some trees for more sun?
Did you plants not seem very productive, or show signs of stress or disease? You probably need to improve your soil and think about a fertilizing regime (more about that below).
Bottomline, fall is a great time for a honest assessment of ‘what you got.’ Playing to your garden’s strengths and working to mitigate its weakness are the fastest way to a gratifying gardening experience.
#2 – Fall is the Time To Improve Your Soil
The first thing to do – get a soil test!
And not one of those worthless, online ‘take your own soil test’ at home offers. They aren’t worth the money and certainly not the time. A good quality ab-based soil test isn’t terribly expensive – anywhere from about $30 to $70 depending on how detailed you want it. And the information it gives you will be well-worth the money in preventing costly mistakes.
Reach out to the local garden center or farm supply store and ask them where they go for soil tests. Most regions have a locally known soil-testing lab they all send soil tests too. Or, we like the offer from Peaceful Valley for a good quality testing service, including great support explaining ‘what’ your soil test means when you get it.
A soil test can be really eye-opening for assessing the basics of your soil health and getting a bottom-line on what you can do to improve it. Plan to do it yearly, ideally at the same time. Many people do their soil tests in the spring. But fall soil tests give you a lot more time to make changes for next spring.
#3 – The Tri-Fecta of a Happy Garden – Soil Amendments, Cover Crop and Compost
That soil test will help determine if you need to put in some fall soil amendments.
So, what are ‘soil amendments?’ They are essentially additives to your soil that help prime it for the best growing conditions.
The most traditional one is to add lime (to raise) or sulfur (to lower), the Ph of your soil for ideal growing conditions. The ‘Ph’ of your soil is the description of either how acid, or how alkaline, your soil is. Different plants like different Ph conditions.
In the Pacific Northwest, many gardeners start with a soil that has a pretty low ph. Or essentially ‘forest conditions.’ That’s why the rhododendroms do well! Because they like acidic soil.
If you REALLY want to grow vegetables however, you will want to raise your Ph for a more neutral Ph because the vast majority of vegetables prefer a just slightly acid to neutral Ph for best growing conditions.
Plant a Winter Cover Crop for Healthy Soil
One of the best things you can do for you garden – especially a vegetable garden – is add a winter cover crop into any ground that will be unplanted through the winter.
A winter cover crop – such as favas, winter-hardy peas, or winter-hardy grains like rye or barley – will feed the natural biomes of your soil through the winter. And early in spring, while it the cover crop is green and growing, you mow it down and till it in and that creates a quick healthy ‘green’ manure for your coming plantings.
Different regions favor different types of winter cover crops (all depending on how cold, or how wet, your winter gets). Once again, head down again to your locally-owned garden or nursery and ask them for their recommendations.
Anytime is a Good Time to Add Compost and Mulch
There is really NEVER a bad time to spread compost or mulch your garden. But the thing about fall is you might have more time to do it then in the spring or height of the summer when you are frantically trying to keep on top of the water, the weeds and the harvest!
If you are looking to spread mulch – say a blanket of straw to protect plants that might get too cold through the winter – make sure to use materials that are ‘weed-free.’ Or, you’ll end up seeding a nightmare of weeds into your garden for next spring.
#4 – Add to Your Fall Garden Chore List – Trim, Deadhead and Prune
Not every type of plant in your garden does best with a ‘fall’ pruning. (In some cases, you might be pruning out next year’s flowering buds or stalks). But the vast majority of them do and even those that don’t, it’s hard to go horribly wrong with a gentle shaping or opening up of a crowded plant.
In general, herbaceous perennials (those plants that come back every year but completely die in the fall) do well with a solid cut back. And hardy shrubs will benefit from trimming out dead or crowded branches.
If you aren’t sure what to prune, and how, this is again a great time to reach out to a local expert. Your local nursery or garden center or check with your local extension office. Many have a ‘master gardener’ program that can be a great resource for answering questions!
Also, check out this online ‘question answering’ service offered through extension services.
#5 – Fall is Great Time to Plant Next Year’s Garden!
That’s right, fall is a great time to plant! Well, at least some plants.
If you are in a mild winter climate, like the Pacific Northwest, fall can be a great time to plant perennials, shrubs and even some trees. Just make sure to give them good drainage and some winter-protection (mulch for sure) to get them through that first winter.
Trees also might need to be stabilized for high winter winds, which can literally ‘blow-over’ newly planted trees without a solid root system established.
Overall though, fall can be a great time to get these plants in because they can get more established before the harsher (typically drier) conditions of summer.
Also, you can often find great deals on perennial plants, shrubs and trees from many nursery and garden centers in the fall. Bottom line, it’s a perfect time to get planting!
Don’t Forget the Bulbs!
And of course, fall is the time to put in your bulbs for next year. Which are in many ways one of the most rewarding fall planting projects.
A quick planting of daffodils or tulips this fall can be such a reward of color and blooms in the early spring when you are beyond tired of the grey doldrums of winter!
And, of course, the best time to plant an amazing garlic crop is the fall! Check out our great Guide For Growing Garlic.
In the Pacific Northwest, with mild winter conditions that rarely freeze our soil solid, we can get away with planting bulbs a lot later than many regions. Even into December! The trick is to get the bulbs planted when the soil isn’t frozen soil or so wet it’s a mucky mess.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s fall. Never a better time to get gardening!