Whether you plan to plant Fall vegetables, cover crops, or let your garden beds lie fallow for the winter, the end of the Summer growing season is an opportune time to do some important maintenance in your garden.
The first thing you’ll want to do is remove any dead or diseased plant matter. If you still have things like tomatoes ripening on the vine, it’s fine to leave them, but remove plants that are done producing as they can end up as a home for disease and pests. Remove any spent fruits that may have dropped off of your plants. Also, check for weeds and make sure to remove those before they have the chance to go to seed and make more work for you later.
Prepare the Soil
If you are planting a Fall crop of vegetables or cover plants, you’ll want to loosen compacted soil. You don’t need to do a major tilling; just use a garden fork or rake to loosen the top layer so that water can penetrate and roots will easily move through the soil.
Amend your soil with some organic matter before planting. Ideally, you will want to add compost about 2 weeks before planting so that the nutrients have time to work their way through the soil.
Finally, rake your soil smooth to remove any large clumps and add mulch. Straw is a great mulch for the fall because it is easy to spread and move around and will break down and add nutrients to the soil.
Prepare for Frost
If you will be planting crops that you expect to grow into the Winter, you may be planning to use a cold frame or hoop system that will allow you to cover your plants. Putting these systems in place before you plant will make it easier and guarantee that they are there when you need them.
Cover Crops and Soil Adjustment
If you aren’t planning a Fall garden, you may want to take the time in the Fall to plant some cover crops that will help to loosen the soil, replace nitrogen and add nutrients when they are tilled into your garden in the Spring. For most home gardeners, the important thing to consider when choosing a cover crop is how easy it will be to work into the soil in the spring. Annuals like oats, mustard, and barley are good choices for the home gardener. You’ll want to sow cover crops at least 4 weeks before the expected first frost in your area.
If you plan some fall vegetables, perhaps consider radishes and carrots that help to loosen tough soil and some legumes like sugar peas that help restore nitrogen.
Taking some extra time in the Fall to maintain your garden beds will help you grow a successful crop of cool-weather vegetables and make Spring planting much easier.