Your garden may look dormant once your fall harvest is over, but there are things you can do now to make sure that your garden keeps working for you well into the fall and winter.
Plant and Maintain Crops
Root vegetables (carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, radishes, beets, turnips, rutabagas and Jerusalem artichokes) can stay in the ground covered with a heavy layer of mulch or straw. Mark the rows with tall stakes so you can find them in the snow.
Cut back canes of fall-bearing raspberries to about ground level and water the area during extended dry spells over the winter. Remove only older, thick canes of summer.
Fall is a good time to plant blueberry bushes.
About a month before the frost is in the ground, plant garlic. Plant your biggest and best garlic cloves from this year’s harvest in a sunny spot about 3 inches deep, 6 inches apart with about 12 inches between rows. Mulch the garlic bed. It is normal to see some green growth in the fall.
You can even use your garden as a root cellar, of sorts. If you have cabbage in the garden that you would like to save for the winter months, dig it up now with the roots attached; then dig a hole and put it in, head-first, and bury it with the root sticking out. You might want to also mark the spot with a tall stake to find it in the snow. When you will dig it up, remove the outside leaves and find a perfect cabbage inside. Potatoes and carrots can also be dug now and preserved with a mound of straw and dirt above them.
Prevent Disease and Weeds and Prepare Soil
Remove all weeds and debris where insects and disease could hide over the winter.
In the areas where you have not mulched over root crops, dig up and work the soil. If you plan to plant an early crop of strawberries, asparagus or raspberries, doing the tilling and soil preparation now means that you will be ready to plant in early spring.
Once most of the garden soil is exposed, add a layer of compost, leaves, manure, and lime (if you need it based on a soil pH test). Gently till these into the soil. Soil micro-organisms and beneficial soil insects will help incorporate these materials into the soil before the ground freezes and in the spring after it thaws.
Another option is to sow cover crops which will add nutrients, prevent erosion, and reduce weeds. In the spring you just turn the crop right into the soil. See this Cornell Cooperative Extension article to help decide which cover crop is right for your garden.
If some areas of your garden have hopelessly gone to weeds, deadhead the weeds (and put their seeds far, far away), then cover area with newspaper and a layer of compost and leave it in place over the winter into the spring.
Use Your Leaves
Use your chopped leaves as mulch. Run over your leaves with the lawnmower and create a leaf-only compost pile. They make great mulch on flower beds or vegetable gardens, or can be turned into beds to add organic matter in the spring.
Leaves also make great “brown” addition to your regular compost pile. The compost recipe is “two-parts brown and one-part green.” Kitchen waste, grass and still-green plants provide the “green” component. Click here for more on composting.
The easiest thing to do on your lawn is to Leave Leaves Alone! Just mow them right on your lawn and leave them there to break down and add nutrients to your soil.
Pot Some Herbs
Bring them in! Pot your parsley and chives and use fresh herbs all winter.
Protect Your Equipment
- Clean and sharpen garden tools before putting them away
- Bring in tomato cages or stakes that you can use again next year
- Bring in weather-vulnerable pots or garden statues
- Disconnect the hose, drain it, and store it with your garden tools.
- Clear out your irrigation system and shut down for winter
- Make fence repairs and trim branches that might fall on existing fences over the winter.
Enjoy the fall!