Now that the growing season is coming to an end start thinking about tasks that will make the upcoming spring season easier, more enjoyable, and more productive. We've put together a list of fall garden chores to help you prep for next year's growing season.
1. If you haven't gotten around to getting your soil tested, do it in the fall. Testing your soil in the fall gives you the opportunity to right any imbalances and get it ready for the spring. Generally, consider getting your soil tested every few years so you can make sure it remains well balanced.
2. Divide plants if needed. Dividing applies to most herbaceous perennials, but in an edible garden, the focus will be on herbs. Echinacea, mint, oregano, and many others, will continue to spread. Dividing them in the fall just means one less thing you have to do in the spring. Fall is also a great time for transplanting, so find new homes in your garden for the plants you divide. Or give them away to friends!
3. Encourage beneficial insects to overwinter in your yard. Rodale's Organic Life suggests leaving debris in your garden, such as a log or dead ground cover, both of which are great for housing ladybugs, spiders, and even solitary bees. Having predators and pollinators living in your garden at the start of spring is a definite plus!
4. Clean up any dead, dying, diseased, or insect-infested plants. It's a good idea to clear out your garden in the fall. Leaving plant material in your vegetable garden through the winter is an open invitation for diseases and pests to stick around. Avoid composting diseased and pest infested plants as well. Compost doesn't always get as hot as it needs to in order to kill everything, so it's better to err on the side of caution.
5. Collect leaves. Even if you don't compost, you can still use fallen leaves. One option is to pile them up and leave them to break down over time into leaf mold. Or you can run over them with a lawnmower a time or two and rake the leaf debris directly into your garden beds to break down over the winter. You can also rake grass clippings directly into your garden beds. Compost, straw, and other sources of organic matter are also great to add to your garden in the fall. Once the spring hits, work the broken down debris into the top layers of your soil.
6. Plant a cover crop. Cover crops protect soil from erosion, keep weeds to a minimum, condition the soil, and add nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. Winter hardy cover crops include winter rye and Dutch white clover. Modern Farmer suggests directly sowing these about a month before your area's estimated first frost date.
7. Plant fruiting shrubs and trees. Fall is a great time to get trees and shrubs in the ground. Cooler temperatures minimize transplant stress, but there's still enough time for the roots to become established before the cold sets in. Come spring, the plants are ready to take off at the start of the growing season.
8. Plant garlic. Even if you don't want a fall vegetable garden, consider planting garlic. Although you'll have to wait until next summer to harvest garlic, it's extremely low maintenance. And you can just save a few organic cloves from the store to plant. Get garlic cloves in the ground before the ground freezes, since, according to Mother Earth News, being exposed to cold temperatures yields larger, better bulbs the following year.
9) Take note of what worked and what didn't. Fall is the time to jot down a couple of reminders of things to repeat, and things not to repeat. Don't wait until the middle of winter to try to remember what worked and what didn't. As you do your work around the garden in the fall, start thinking about plans for spring.
10) Get your garden projects done in the fall! Many people wait until spring to start a new garden bed or build compost bins and other garden projects. But why not get it ready now? Wouldn't you much rather just start gardening in the spring? To start a new bed, till (if you must), amend, and sow a cover crop to get your new bed off to a great start in the spring. Other great projects for the fall include building compost bins and cold frames (which are great for starting seeds in early spring).