Garden Maintenance for the Fall

The garden, for the most part, is spent. Another growing season is over but there is still work for the gardener. Much of what you do at this time of year will give you a jumpstart in the spring.

Start by removing debris from the garden. That ensuing cleanliness is your best defense against insects and disease. If you have any diseased plant remains or weeds going to seed, put them in a separate pile from the dead foliage. The dead foliage can be chopped or run over by a lawn mower, making smaller pieces, which can then be added to a compost pile. The diseased plants and seeded weeds have to be trashed or burned.

Continue to remove weeds from the garden, preferably before they go to seed. Fallen leaves, too, can be chopped and added to the garden soil or the compost. Do not pile fallen leaves deeply on the soil. The idea is to have the chopped leaves decompose over winter. If they are piled deeply, that can’t happen.

Leaves, in a thin layer, can be added around the base of perennial plants. That action will help to moderate temperatures of the soil, minimizing freezing and thawing around the roots.

Pick up the stakes and tomato cages and clean them off before storing away. If any need to be replaced, start a list of what you’ll need for next year.

This is also the ideal time to review the condition of your tools. Use steel wool to remove rust. Sharpen the blades. Soak tools in a 10% bleach solution to reduce disease carryover to the next season. Dry with towels. I also put them in the sun and then oil them, or spray them with a metal protector. Store in a dry area.

As wet soils can make it challenging to prepare beds in the spring, do as much preparation as you can in the fall. After removing debris, rake off the soil. Then you may want to mix in chopped leaves, peat moss, straw, sand, compost or aged manure. These can also be added to your coldframe. Get the most from a coldframe by setting it to face south for maximum sun exposure.

You do want to wait until spring to trim back hardy herbs like sage and oregano. The branches and leaves will help to protect the base from freezing. If you do any trimming of bushes now, you may be trimming off the spring’s flowers. Be cognizant of when the bush begins to flower, and try to only trim fall flowering bushes now or accept that they may be flowerless next season.

Many think that soil should not be left bare throughout the winter. Buckwheat and rye hold the topsoil in place and turn into the soil nicely, enriching it as they decompose. You want to turn it over after they flower, as buckwheat especially is a great early nectar source for bees. Ideally, turn it over before it goes to seed. Red clover has nitrogen-fixing properties and breaks down easily in the spring. The other clovers do not behave the same way.

Now, if you have not subscribed to receive some spring catalogs, get yourself on some of the seed catalogs’ mailing lists.

Also, if you are interested in the Garden Basics or Master Gardener certification classes, you need to contact the local extension office at (615) 898-7710. Applications will be due soon for classes that start in January.

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