Without a doubt, fall is my favorite season.
I mentioned this in an earlier blog post, but I’ll say it again here. I love fall not for the aroma of pumpkin spice (I hate the flavor of artificial pumpkin), nor for the ability to wear flannel shirts all day long (although that’s nice, I can do that in the winter, too).
I love fall because it’s a time of abundance and closure, and nowhere is that truer than in the garden.
Unfortunately, what tends to happen at this time of the year is that I become so enthralled in the beauty of the season that I neglect many of my end-of-the-year must-do gardening chores.
It can be tough to find the time – and ambition – to get work done in the garden once the leaves start changing. Not only am I typically burned out from the garden and its related chores – I’ve canned hundreds of pounds of tomatoes this year alone – but I’m generally exhausted and just want to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee – or a glass of red wine.
But there are some fall chores that are absolutely essential when it comes to closing out your summer garden.
Here are some tips to follow to make sure you are on the road to an equally abundant garden next spring.
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Clean Up Dead Plants – Especially the Diseased Ones
I’ve gotten better at this chore since we started raising chickens and pigs, who particularly appreciate the scraps I save for them from the aftermath of the garden.
If you don’t get to any other fall garden chores, make sure this one is a priority. While most dead plants are safe to leave to rot in the garden over the winter, you definitely do need to remove any diseased or bug-infested plants. Dig them out and throw them away (or, if it they’re infected or infested with something that isn’t hazardous to animals, go ahead and feed them to your chickens).
Do not add any diseased plants to your winter compost pile. A compost, especially winter compost, isn’t likely to reach the high temperatures needed to kill the disease.
You can also pull a chicken tractor over the garden to let your chickens clean up the garden debris for you.
Remove Fallen Fruit
Unless you are planning on allowing your chickens to do it for you, you need to make sure you pick up any leftover fruits or vegetables that are lying on the ground. Not only can allowing the fruit to lie around promote pests, but it also is unsightly to look at.
Weed Thoroughly, But Avoid Tilling
You don’t need to till your fall garden to turn weed seeds under – this can provide them with the ability to lie dormant over the winter. Instead, consider some of these alternatives to tilling if you plan on sowing a cover crop.
You should, however, weed. You can use tools like these or you can pull by hand. Luckily, weeding in the fall shouldn’t take you too long. Again, you can use chickens if you’ve got some. The goal here is just to save you a few minutes next spring.
If you have any new perennials, shrubs, or trees that you planted in late summer or fall (or plants that will overwinter, like garlic), you need to make sure you continue watering them. Keep watering until the ground freezes and remember that for new plants, water is even more vital than fertilizer.
Prune or Divide Your Perennials
Some perennials aren’t going to fare well once the frost hits. Prune back as much as possible now. You can also prune certain types of trees in the fall, but make sure you research your individual species of tree before doing this. Some flowering trees, like cherry, plum, peach, should not be pruned in the fall but instead should be taken care of closer to bloom time.
Some perennials will need to be divided. Here are some tips to follow.
Add Fertilizer or Compost
Fall is the best time to add fertilizer to your garden. Add a layer or two of compost or other organic matter (here’s a list of everything you can compost).
Again – letting chickens do their magic over your garden is a great way to add fertilizer to the soil while they are tilling it up. You can find some other excellent ways to fertilize your garden here .
Collect Dried Seeds
Any dried seeds from open-pollinated vegetables and fruits should be collected now. Save it to sow next year, or do some strategic self-sowing in other areas of the garden. In some cases, you may be able to winter sow, too.
Plant Fall Crops or Bulbs
Are you growing any fall vegetables or flower bulbs? Now is the time to get them in the ground! Here are some of the best fall crops you can grow (dependent on your growing zone, of course):
- Bok choy
- Broccoli and cauliflower
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
If you plan on growing spring-blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, put them in the ground now. You can find some bulbs here.Try AmazonFresh Free Trial
Store Delicate Bulbs
Similarly, if you have any bulbs that need to be stored during the winter, take them out and remove them now. Here are some tips on storing bulbs.
Some delicate bulbs to be considerate of include gladiolus, cannas, dahlias, and begonias.
Grow a Cover Crop
I recommend growing a cover crop in your garden, particularly if you have heavy clay soil. A cover crop will help break up the soil, enrich sandy soil, and even add nutrients back into the garden. It can even help prevent a ton of mud in the spring!
Here are some good cover crops to consider.
Prep Your Pots
Don’t be like me and allow your ceramic and stone flower pots to stay out all winter.
Why? Well, here’s what happens.
When it gets cold – which it inevitably will – moisture will get inside. As the weather warms and then cools again, the moisture will expand and contract…and your pots will crack. Meaning you’ll be left with shards of ceramic pots everywhere. It’s a serious mess.
Instead, just empty your pots and store them in your garden shed or another storage area. It’s a simple chore, but one you really need to do.
Cover Unused Beds
If you have raised beds that aren’t going to be used for planting fall crops, consider covering them with heavy mulch or even thick black plastic. This will block weeds and prevent weed seeds. You’ll save time and energy next spring and summer!
Here is some good black plastic to consider.
Consider Wrapping Your Trees
If you grow any sensitive trees on your property – or have just recently planted some species – you will want to wrap them. You can use brown paper wrap like this or plastic winding tubes. This will help prevent the fragile bark from cracking as it contracts and expands.
If you plan on taking cuttings from any of your plants, like sweet potatoes, take cuttings now. It will be easier to bring in small cuttings to overwinter than it will be to take large pots of mature plants.
Clean Out Your Cold Frame or Hoop House
If you utilize a cold frame or hoop house, you will want to begin cleaning out and preparing them now. Get them ready to go now, when it’s a bit warmer, so you won’t have to do it in the dead of winter when you are preparing them for spring.
Winterize Your Watering System
Shut off any and store any hoses or other watering equipment you might have. And don’t forget – you also need to make sure your rain barrels are emptied and stored, too, to prevent any winter-related damage.
Clean, Repair, Replace, and Store Gardening Tools
I never, ever do this – but always tell myself I am going to! Make sure you give all of your tools a good, thorough cleaning, and store them in a shed or another covered storage area over the winter. Remove all chemicals and dirt to help prevent rust, too.
If you have any tools that need to be repaired or replaced, now is also the time to get that done. You’ll find the best deals on tools right now, when nobody is rushing to the stores to buy them.
Harvest and Store Fall Crops
Saving the best for last! Although realistically, this is probably something you will want to get done long before you do anything else on this list. You need to harvest, store, and preserve any fall crops.
Some fall crops, like carrots, can be preserved with canning. However, there are others, like spaghetti squash, that should just be cured and stored in a cool, dry area – trust me, they’ll last most of the winter that way!
Nobody knows it better than I do – gardening is a time of serious fatigue in and around the garden. It can be downright exhausting trying to make time for everything you need to get done in your garden!
However, with a little bit of advanced planning, you can easily cross out all of these items on your fall chore list.
What else do you try to accomplish in the fall? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about gardening? Be sure to check out these articles!
- 23 Awesome Organic Fertilizer Ideas
- 18 Hacks for Eliminating Garden Weeds
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Growing Mint
- The Best Tips for Growing Chamomile in Your Garden
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