As our gardens begin to wind down for the season, we are sure many of you are beginning to think about how you can prepare your garden to be successful next season. Fall garden prep may be easy to overlook, but it is very important if you want to have a thriving garden year after year. Fall and winter garden prep is primarily focused on your soil. After a full season of growing delicious fruits and vegetables, the soil in your garden is very likely depleted of nutrients and worn out from the long, hot summer. So, we have provided you with a list of things to do to make sure your garden is equipped for another long, full season next spring!
Remove Any Dead or Dying Plants
This goes for your spent fruit and vegetable plants as well as your weeds! While you may be tempted to compost dead plant material or simply till it into the soil to decompose, this could bring about unforeseen issues next season.
Don’t Compost Your Spent Plants
While it may seem like a great idea to compost spent garden plants so that they can add nutrients back into the soil, enriching it for next season, there are some risks that outweigh the benefits. Especially with plants such as tomatoes and peppers, the likelihood of your plants coming into contact with some sort of disease at some point throughout the growing season is very high. If your tomato plant happened to have a disease, tilling the spent plant or any less than desirable fruit into the soil and allowing it to decompose would pass the disease onto next year's plants through the soil. In this case, you would have to deal with the same issue, but likely on a larger scale.
Remove as Many Weeds as Possible
Similar to composting garden plants, allowing weeds to remain in your garden throughout the winter season will allow them to come back with a vengeance in the following season. Clear out as many weeds as possible to prevent them from going to seed and to keep current weeds from forming deeper roots that will be impossibly difficult to pull in the spring. While this will not keep weeds from growing in your garden altogether, it will keep the weed population at bay instead of doubling the number that pop up as soon as the weather warms.
Add Organic Matter to Your Soil
Adding organic matter to your garden will help rejuvenate the soil, filling it with nutrients and ensuring that it will be ready for planting in the spring. It will also help keep your soil from becoming heavily compacted throughout the winter season, making it easier to till and plant when spring comes. Mix generous amounts of compost into the soil. This can include your own homemade compost, chicken or sheep manure, grass clippings, and all the leaves that fall off your trees this fall! All of these make for great garden soil amendments.
Pro tip: shred your leaves with your push mower, then dig generous amounts into your garden beds. You can also spread a layer of un-shredded leaves over the top of your soil once all your amendments have been added to help protect it from the harsh winter elements.
Plant a Cover Crop
This is generally something that farmers tending large fields put into practice, but this does not mean that those of us with backyard gardens can't do it too! Planting a cover crop is definitely not something that is required, but it can make a huge difference in the health of your garden. Cover crops are used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health by introducing nutrients back into the ground, help deter weeds and control pests and disease, enhance the availability of water, increase biodiversity, and so much more. Cover crops have been proven to increase the productivity of gardens tremendously! There are many different kinds of cover crops as well, but they usually tend to be things such as field peas, winter rye, clover, and oats. Plant your cover crops around the middle of October in soil that has been cleared of the previous seasons' decay and enriched with compost and other organic matter. It will grow quickly and will protect your soil throughout the winter. Then in early spring as soon as the soil softens, till the cover crop into the ground and give it a month before planting to let it decay. This will add even more valuable organic material to your soil, making sure it is well prepared for the growing season ahead!
Do You Have Questions About How to Prepare Your Garden for Fall/Winter?
We know this has been a very quick overview of fall and winter garden prep, so if you have any questions, please let us know! Our goal at Bath Garden Center is to help you grow better, naturally, and that includes in the off-season, too! Reach out via phone, email, or through our website. We always love to see our customers in-store as well, so swing by for a visit and bring any questions with you!