How to prepare your garden for Autumn
As summer is winding down you may be tempted to put away the garden tools and forget about the gardening chores until next spring. That would be a mistake.
Preparing your garden for autumn will promote a healthier and more productive spring garden, plus it’s not too late to grow fresh food this year.
Use these tips for preparing your garden for autumn so you can enjoy fresh vegetables for longer in the season.
1) Clean-Up Time
All the garden plants have finished their production cycle by the end of summer (cool-season vegetables finish earlier) and it’s a good time for garden clean-up.
Start the clean-up by harvesting plant seeds and inspecting the plants for pests and diseases. Note the location of all the plants so you can rotate the crops next spring.
Remove all dead and dying plant material, old mulch, and other debris in the garden. If the plant material is pest and disease-free it will make a great addition to the compost bin. If there is evidence of pest eggs or plant disease, dispose of the plant matter away from the garden and compost. Adding it to the compost bin will cause the problem to be re-introduced to the garden or lawn next year.
2) Create a Compost Bin
If you don’t already have one, create a compost bin or pile this autumn. The tree leaves and decaying garden material will be ideal organic matter for use in starting a compost bin.
A compost bin does not have to be anything elaborate or expensive, just something that can keep the organic material secure in one area will work. Recycled wooden pallets, 55-gallon barrel, 5-gallon bucket, etc., will work nicely.
Compost is often referred to as ‘black gold’ by gardeners because of its value in helping to create fertile soil for gardens and lawns. Compost is decayed organic material, like garden plants, fallen leaves, vegetable and fruit peeling, and grass clippings.
The decayed organic material is rich in nutrients and is the best thing you can add to soil to improve soil fertility, structure, drainage, and water retention. Compost also helps to promote the development of a bio-diverse sub-culture (including earthworms) within the soil that help will also help to improve the soil structure under the garden and lawn.
3) Refresh Soil
Refresh the garden and lawn soil in autumn so it can continue to feed vegetation until winter.
After cleaning up the garden, add 2-4 inches of compost and turn it under. Broadcast compost on top of the lawn and the rain will carry it down into the soil to feed the grass at the root level.
The soil has been depleted of nutrients during the summer growing season and needs to be refreshed with nutrition. A soil test kit is inexpensive and easy to use. It will alert you to what elements the soil is lacking in and what amendments should be added.
4) Plant a Winter Cover Crop
Autumn is the time of year for cool-season vegetable gardening. Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, beets, carrots, peas, radishes, turnips, collards, and kale grow best during the cool days and nights of autumn.
If you have a small plot, consider planting cool-season root crops in the garden in early autumn. Radishes, turnips, and carrots provide two different foods in one spot - green, leafy tops, and edible bulbs. The green tops are packed with nutrition and are ideal for adding to a green salad or stir fry recipe. The bottom bulb that grows under the soil loosens it so it will be easier for you to turn the garden soil in spring.
In addition to extending the gardening season and providing fresh vegetables until frost, these cool-season vegetables also act as a cover crop to help prevent soil erosion and compaction. Collard greens taste sweeter after a light frost has fallen on the leaves, and the plant will continue producing in climates with mild winters. Even if you don’t like the flavour of kale, collards, turnips of similar fall and winter cover crops, plant them anyway in autumn to improve your spring garden.
Allow the crops to remain in the garden until early spring, then turn them under the soil to act as green manure. The plant material will decompose quickly as the soil warms up and increase the nutrients in the soil.
5) Tool Preparation
Get the lawn and garden tools ready for the next growing season in autumn. Repair all the tools, and sharpen all the blades. Spray paint the wooden handles a bright neon colour so they will be easy to spot if they’re left in the garden or if a neighbour borrows them.
Empty the rain barrel to prevent mosquitos from laying eggs in the water and empty water from any other vessel around the garden.
Create a toad house in the corner of your garden to attract toads. One toad will eat hundreds of garden pests every night to help keep your garden pest-free naturally.
To create an inviting toad house, make an indentation in the soil about 6-inches square and add a handful of leaves or hay. Place a large rock or broken terra cotta pot over the indentation, leaving enough space under it for a toad to crawl under. Wet the area and keep it moist. A toad, or maybe a pair of them, should be moving in by spring to eat their fill of bugs.