10 Fall Gardening Tips For A Productive Garden Next Year
Here are 10 fall gardening tips that will help you have a productive, healthy garden next gardening season. Because the best way to ensure a productive garden next spring and summer is to start this fall!
Fall is famous for being harvest season. It’s the time of year when we’re plucking all that remains from the stems and the soil and bringing it into the kitchen to be eaten fresh and preserved for the long winter months ahead. It’s also the time when the flowers die back and the leaves fall from the trees, leaving nothing but bare bones until they come alive again next spring.
Indeed, fall typically marks the end of the gardening season. But there is still work to be done outside, and following a few simple fall gardening tips can help you to have a healthier, more productive and even more beautiful garden next season.
Here are 10 easy steps you can take to prepare your garden this fall for an even more productive gardening season next year.
1. Pull out all annual plants and weeds (and save your seeds properly)
Pull out any dead annuals and weeds and add them to your compost. If they’re diseased, dispose of them by burning or putting them in yard waste bags. Do not add old diseased or pest-ridden plants to your compost as this can spread problems and negatively affect the health of your future soil. Annuals will die off and they won’t come back so pull them up now and get rid of them. Pull weeds now too to prevent them from going to seed and spreading.
You can leave root crops like carrots, turnips and beets in the ground along with cold-loving greens like cabbage and kale until after the first frost. Root veggies are even known to get sweeter if you leave them in the ground past the first frost date. But pull them up before the ground freezes solid if you plan on using them this year. You can overwinter some vegetables in milder climates, especially if you add a thick layer of mulch. Check guidelines for your local area and unique garden zone to find out more.
Also, be sure to save, dry and label any seeds you save from your garden this year too so you have some seeds ready to go when it’s time to plant next year. Always be sure to label the type and variety of seeds so you know what you’re planting come spring! Because trust me, if you don’t label them and it’s not obvious what type and variety they are, you are bound to forget. So take an extra few minutes to label them now and even consider writing down planting instructions. This will make life exponentially easier when you’re ready to start planting.
2. Feed and amend your soil
Once you’ve cleaned up your garden, feed your soil. Fall is the best time to fertilize as there is ample time for compost, manure, mulch and store-bought organic fertilizers to break down and release nutrients into the soil before spring.
You might want to get your soil tested to see if there are specific nutrients or amendments your soil could benefit from. Adjusting the PH balance of your soil correctly can make all the difference for your garden, and a soil test can help you determine exactly what your soil needs and how much of it.
You can contact your local extension office if you’re in the U.S. or your local municipal or regional district office in Canada to find out about getting your soil tested at a lab in your area. You can also purchase at-home soil tests, but sometimes readings are inaccurate. If you’re going to go through the trouble, you may as well send it to a lab to be sure.
For most small-scale home gardeners though, covering your dormant garden beds with a one or two-inch thick layer of compost, mulch or manure or lightly tilling in some organic store-bought fertilizer is enough.
3. Plant garlic and spring bulbs
Fall is the time to get your garlic and your spring bulbs in the ground. Plant garlic cloves roughly two inches deep and four inches apart in well-drained soil. Water and cover with mulch and allow them to overwinter. They’ll start growing again in early spring and will be ready for harvest next July. Click here for more garlic growing tips.
Plant tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, bluebells and other spring bulbs now for a beautiful flower garden come spring. Be sure to water them well to help them get established. Add a couple inches of mulch over the soil if you get extremely cold winters.
Be sure to label where you plant things as well so you don’t forget what you planted and where. This helps to ensure you don’t plant anything else in that same area and it also helps you remember the type and variety of bulb planted so you can plant more next fall if you really love them!
4. Plant winter crops & cover crops
You don’t need to wait until spring to start growing food again! Some crops will do well all winter long in milder climates, especially if grown in a greenhouse or under cover. Cold-loving winter greens like kale, collards, bok choi, mustard greens and even lettuce can be grown into the winter, sometimes right into spring. Be sure to check guidelines for your local area and gardening zone to find out what you can grow over winter.
You might also want to plant a cover crop over your annual garden bed. Cover crops provide many benefits to your garden including controlling weeds, preventing soil erosion, oxygenating soil, and adding nitrogen and other key nutrients and organic matter back in.
I’ve mentioned mulch a couple times already, but it deserves to stand alone on the list of fall gardening tasks.
Mulching is a great way to keep soil warm while seeds and spring bulbs are germinating and establishing themselves. Although some plants love the cold, they still need some warmth when they’re in their infancy just like all babies.
Likewise, mulching around perennials, shrubs and trees helps to keeps roots warm in areas that experience extremely cold winters. So mulch around the base of plants in the fall to keep them warm throughout the coming months.
Mulching also helps to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil, so consider adding it to your dormant annual beds as well. You can till it in lightly or leave a layer on top and till it in the spring.
Some perennials are more productive the following year if they’re pruned back in the fall. Perennial woody herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano can be pruned back by one-third in the fall and will regrow with vigor come spring. More herbaceous perennial or biennial herbs like parsley, mint and chives can be cut down to within an inch of the ground as they will die off when it gets too cold anyway. Pruning herbs in the fall offers the added bonus of being able to dry or otherwise preserve them and use them all winter long!
Rhubarb is another hardy perennial plant that can be cut right back to the ground in the fall and will rebound with fresh growth the following year.
Some other perennial plants (mostly ornamentals) do best when pruned in the fall too. Here is a list of perennial plants to prune in the fall. Some other ornamental shrubs and trees also benefit from fall pruning but there is debate over whether it’s actually best to prune in the fall or in the late winter/early spring as pruning late in the season but just before complete winter dormancy can actually harm the plants. You might want to check with your local garden store to verify what you should prune and when in your area.
7. Plant ornamental trees & shrubs
Fall is a great time to plant ornamental shrubs and trees. Fruit trees and bushes do better when planted in early spring, but ornamentals like Japanese Maples, Evergreens and even Hydrangeas and Rhododendrons can be planted in the fall, although most need to be planted a few weeks before the first frost to give them time to get established.
Once again, it’s best to check with your local garden centre to find out what you can and should plant in the fall in your specific area.
8. Tidy up and put gardening tools away
Be sure to tidy up your tools as well as your garden. Once you’ve cleared your beds, fertilized, planted, mulched and pruned, put away any garden tools and empty pots laying around. This includes watering cans and hoses if possible to prevent freezing and cracking (I personally lost my favourite watering can when the rain water that collected in it a coupe winters ago froze and expanded and cracked the bottom right off).
Give your garden tools a wipe down and knock off any dirt. Then hang them up or put them away in your garden shed or undercover somewhere to prevent rusting and cracking over the winter.
If you’re really ambitious you might want to wash some of them and rub a layer of oil over them for protection. Motor oil and boiled linseed oil are two suggestions, but both of those options have synthetic properties and personally I don’t want that transferring to my garden. To go all natural, clean and dry tools well and then rub a light layer of vegetable oil over your tools with a towel. A little olive oil goes a long way in protecting your garden tools over the winter.
You may also want to put away empty pots and even take some potted plants indoors or into your greenhouse if you have one. This helps prevent pots from freezing and cracking over the winter and can prolong the life of other plants like potted herbs, or keep them from getting too cold and dying completely in the winter.
9. Record your results this season
While it’s no doubt best practice to keep a garden journal from seed to harvest, if you didn’t quite get that far this year, don’t despair. You can still make a few notes about this year’s garden that will help you better plan for next year.
One important thing to write down is where you had everything planted. It’s always best to rotate your crops to avoid disease and nutrient deficiencies and give them the best chance at being strong and healthy. Consider drawing a rough sketch of your garden and noting where things were planted so you know where not to plant them next year.
Another easy way to do this is simply to take photos in the summer when your crops are in the ground. Then refer back to your photos next year to remind yourself where things were planted so you don’t plant them in the same spot again.
Also make notes of what crops did exceptional well and what didn’t fare so good, as well as what you did or might try differently next year. And note at least a rough estimate of what you planted and whether it was just right, too much or not enough come harvest time. This can better help you plan for how much to plant next year.
10. Make a plan for next year
Perhaps the best part of all is the part where you get to start planning next year’s garden! Am I the only one who starts planning for the following year while this year’s garden is still in full production mode??? Please tell me I’m not alone.
Fall is a great time to start thinking about next year’s garden as you put this year’s garden to bed and even start planting bulbs for the following year. While you certainly don’t have to start planning yet, it can be fun and useful to take a little time to evaluate your successes and setbacks, what worked and what didn’t, what you loved growing or didn’t love growing, what you want to add to your garden next year and what you can live without and where you want to plant things next year.
It’s funny… I feel like I spend the better part of the year thinking about winter and preparing for the cold season, but come fall I’m already thinking about spring. I guess that’s why planning and preparedness are oft-found skills in a homesteaders toolkit.
While we love living seasonally and enjoying the simple things in the moment, we’re also future-minded and always looking for ways to make tomorrow, or next season or next year a little healthier, more productive and full of beauty and yummy, homegrown food:)
P.S. To get your hands on my free printable fall gardening checklist, head over to my Free Resource Library and find it under “Gardening Resources.”
Happy fall, y’all;)
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