5 Tips For Fall Garden Prep
When the leaves start falling off the trees, it's Mother Nature's way of telling us that it's time to put the garden to bed for the winter. Fall garden prep can be summed up in 2 phrases -- cleaning up and covering up. The work you do in the fall will help guarantee a beautiful and bountiful garden next spring.
The first step is to clean your equipment. Wash trellises, tomato cages, stakes, and other such items with a solution of water and bleach, then rinse well. When dry, store them away in your garage or shed. Clean the soil off your garden tools and rub the metal with vegetable oil to prevent rust. Dump out the soil and wash all planters. It's best to start with fresh soil come spring.
Get Rid Of Debris
The next step is to remove spent plant material. Pull up annuals that have finished flowering and vegetable plants that are no longer producing. Dispose of diseased materials, but put the rest onto your compost pile. Rake up the fallen leaves from the lawn and add them to the compost pile. Throw kitchen scraps and over-ripe produce into the pile. After it all decomposes, you'll have great organic fertilizer for next year.
Prepare Plants For
Their Winter Rest
Divide overgrown perennials by digging up the entire clump, cutting it into sections with a spade, then replacing one section in the original hole and planting the others in bare spots around the garden. Dig up summer-flowering bulbs, such as dahlias, lilies and begonias, that aren't hardy in your zone. Shake the dirt from their roots and cut off the stalks. Allow them to dry for a few days. Then put them in a cardboard box with peat moss and store them in a cool, dry place through the winter.
Amend The Soil
No matter what kind of soil you have, it can be made better with the addition of organic matter. This is where your compost pile comes in handy. You can also obtain manure from local farms or stables and work it into your soil. Peat moss is another excellent soil enhancer that can be purchased at any garden center or nursery. Waste from your own yard is a free source of organic material. Continue to mow the lawn as long as the grass is still growing using a mulching mower so that the shredded clippings drop into the soil providing nutrients. You can also run the mower over any fallen leaves to speed up their decomposition.
One of the most important fall prep chores is to cover and protect your soil. The foundation of a good garden is good soil. Farmers protect their soil with a cover crop, often clover or annual rye. In the spring, they simply till it into the ground. Home gardeners probably do better by applying a 1"-6" layer of mulch. Wood chip mulch is best, but leaves, grass clippings, pruned branches, or any organic material will do.
Now that your garden is ready for its long winter's nap, it's time to turn your attention to your next big chore -- putting up the outdoor Christmas lights.