The days are shortening and we’re enjoying the last few golden days of fall. As the temperatures begin to drop, it’s time to prepare garden beds for winter.
Not only does a little bit of work in fall make spring gardening more pleasant, following these four simple steps will help preserve your garden soil, prevent plant diseases from spreading, and give you the satisfaction of finishing a job well.
Tidy the Garden
You’ve tended your garden faithfully all summer and fall. It might be tempting to leave the garden till next spring. Don’t.
It will probably take less than an hour to get the garden beds cleared and tidied. The amazing feeling of looking out on clean beds before cuddling up near the fire to plan your spring garden makes every second totally worth it.
First, clear away dead annuals. Toss non-diseased plants onto the compost pile [You have one right? If not, fall is the perfect time to start a compost pile!] Throw away diseased plants.
Then wipe the dirt from trellises, stakes, and tools. Just to be extra certain not to spread soil-borne diseases, I usually wipe them dry with a bit of rubbing alcohol. Store till next spring.
That’s easy enough, right?
Pruning plants is one of the most daunting parts of gardening. The good news is that even if it’s not quite perfect, a little pruning is almost always better for the plant than none at all.
Look in your favorite gardening guide for specifics, but here are a few general tips:
- Make a nice clean cut. Jagged edges make it easier for germs to enter.
- Cut away all diseased branches. Do not throw diseased trimmings in your compost pile because you don’t want to spread the disease to other plants!
- If you’d like really cut down the chance of disease, daub each cut edge with a bit of Elmer’s glue. It will prevent bugs and germs from entering, but the strong new growth in springtime will grow through it.
Cover Your Garden Beds
If you leave your garden bed bare all winter, it takes back-breaking work to soften the soil come spring. (Want to guess how I know?)
Garden soil does not like to be left bare. Keep it covered. Your back will thank you next spring. Mulch and cover crops are great options.
- Mulch: I’ve used wood mulch the last couple of years and the results are amazing. The mulch breaks down and turns into rich soil. When it’s time to plant, just scoot over the mulch that’s left, and plant your seeds. The remaining mulch doubles as a weed-preventative and moisture balancer. (This free Back to Eden video makes a pretty compelling case and has much more detail. —thanks Melissa and Elissa for the recommendation!)
- Cover crop: Cover crops aren’t just for farmers. More and more backyard gardeners are using them to restore nutrients to the soil and provide a green cover during winter. This year I’m planting winter wheat in one of my little beds as an experiment. I’m not planning to actually harvest wheat, but hope that my chickens can get some enjoyment from it.
Take Notes for Next Year
This step is the most fun. Think back over your gardens. What plants did well? What plants didn’t? Did certain plants grow really well together? How will you need to rotate crops to avoid soil disease?
Jot down your notes for next years’s garden. You may think you’ll remember that awesome tip for tomatoes till the day you die. If you’re anything like me, chances are pretty high you’ll forget by next spring.
Cuddle by the Fire and Enjoy a Job Well-Finished
Once the garden is tidied, the beds are covered, and the perennials are tended, it’s time to cuddle up by the fire with your favorite gardening book (here’s mine!) and dream about next spring.