Closing Down Your Summer Garden: 5 Tips to Make the Most of This Transition Time
As the warm weather starts to fade, you might be ready to ease up on gardening tasks and prepare beds for the upcoming cold months. Here are some tips to get the most out of your fall garden and cleanup.
What’s happening in your garden as summer shifts to fall? Whether you’re calling it quits for the year, or you’re trying to squeeze one last growing cycle in before the frost hits, there’s plenty of work to do in your garden beds. That includes pulling up some plants as they fade or when freeze hits.
Plants don’t grow as fast in autumn, which is why gardeners need to help their vegetation along and prepare their soil for the next crop—no matter whether it’s now or next spring. These tips can help your fall garden thrive as cooler weather arrives as well as prepare it for winter and the next spring.
1. Reap the Benefits of Succession Planting
Gardeners who practice succession planting in warmer climates might have one or two more growing seasons to go before closing their gardens for the year. Succession planting is all about planning—making sure there is enough room and proper timing to seed crops at intervals of 7 to 21 days. This practice offers an ongoing supply of harvestable produce throughout the growing season and makes a garden more effective overall. Of course, succession planting works best with determinate crops that produce all their fruit at once.
2. Know When to Remove Spent Plants
A good gardener knows to remove dead plants from a garden bed as soon as possible. This advice includes pulling weeds but also applies to determinate plant species, like strawberries, tomatoes, or beans, and any crop that dies back as cold weather arrives. Once plants have finished producing their seasonal flowers or food, growers can remove them.
Leaving spent plants in the garden drains nutrients from the soil without the reward of produce or beautiful florals. The plants that remain in the garden need those nutrients more than ever, as greedy summer plants tend to consume all the good stuff in the soil earlier in the gardening season.
Clean up your fall garden before it gets too cold. Make sure to remove all the old plants that are past their prime, remembering to pull their remaining roots from the soil as well.
3. What You Should and Shouldn’t Do With Plants You Pull Out
Many gardeners save seeds from plants that performed well to grow more of them next year. Make sure to also pick the remaining veggies, and turn any surplus into canned goods or preserves or freeze them for later use. The herbs in your garden will preserve well if dried or frozen in oil—this works for thyme, rosemary, basil, lavender, and more.
Now is also the time to divide spring- and summer-blooming perennials such as black-eyed Susans, garden peonies, and hostas. Replant divisions from these plants immediately. Finish dividing and planting bulbs or other plants 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes, so the new roots can become established.
When moving small container gardens indoors for the cold months, do not bring the plants inside without spraying them off with water to ensure they are pest-free. You will also want to slowly acclimate the plants to indoor temperatures to avoid shocking them.
4. Growing Cool-Season Crops
If you’re taking a run at planting more in your fall garden, make sure you know which types of plants will survive and be aware of the temperature. Early autumn might be too late to start from seed, but you can find cool-weather veggies (such as gourds), flowers (pansies are very cold-tolerant), and herb starters for sale at the nursery. Avoid buying and planting these cool-season crops too early, as they will not fare well if it’s too hot outside.
As long as your first frost date is in late September or October, you still have time to get some crops into the ground. This is a good time for planting shrubs, ornamental or fruit trees, or bulbs like tulips and daffodils. With primed soil in place, you also can grow crops like broccoli, kale, and turnips. It’s helpful to know when the frost arrives, though, because your new plants need time to adjust to the garden before the cold weather hits.
Plan for frost by either harvesting produce or finding a way to cover your remaining plants. You can use a fabric row cover, semi-transparent plastic sheeting over hoops, or another type of cover—just make sure your plants won’t get overheated during the day under the cover.
5. Shutting Down Your Fall Garden Bed for Winter
After you have harvested your herbs, fruits, and veggies and have pulled out any dead or diseased plants, you might be ready to close up your garden bed for the year. Some gardeners opt to till their soil after plant removal to get it ready for spring planting. Shallow tilling or gentle turning of the top few inches of soil can help break up clumps in the soil and help pull up remaining roots while maintaining soil health.
Next, mulch the soil. This protects it from erosion, blocks out light to deter weed growth, and adds a touch of organic matter to the soil so that it will be healthier come springtime. No mulch? You can cover the beds with black plastic or even cardboard to stifle existing weeds instead. Plants slow their growth when the weather cools down, so wait to fertilize or compost until you’re ready to plant again.
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