Fall has arrived, and you've worked hard on your yard and gardens throughout the Spring and Summer months. Although it's tempting to take a break, there are things you should do to prepare for upcoming Winter weather and plan for the Spring that will be here again before you know it.
A lot depends on where you live. For example, you may live someplace warm enough for perennials to be still blooming, and you may still be picking vegetables. However, plants may be dropping leaves if you live in a northern region. You may need to do more to protect plants for the winter if you have long periods of temperatures below freezing. No matter where you live, there are tasks to accomplish and preparations to make so that your Spring gardening and yard work will be less taxing.
Let's divide them into ten categories.
- If soil is low anywhere, add some and consider including some nutrients. You could wait for Spring but doing it now has advantages. Nutrients in the ground have time over the Winter to break down into the soil, so they are ready to nourish plants. Add compost materials, manure, or other organic fertilizers.
- Finish off with some mulch to prevent erosion and keep your soil at a more consistent temperature. If your region should experience an extended warm spell over the Winter, your Spring flowers will be less likely to poke their heads up too soon if the soil stays cool. Mulch is essential for raised beds.
- Remove Dead Growth and Weeds There are two schools of thought when it comes to clearing out spent plants. Some experts say that healthy plants should just be left to break down and add nutrients for future plants. They will also help prevent soil erosion. Others favor clearing out old growth to avoid the possibility of pests and disease. A compromise would be to inspect dying or dead plants and then decide carefully. If the plant debris harbors pests, diseases, or funguses, take it all out because they can endanger future plantings.
Remove any weeds that have become invasive. Hopefully, you've kept up with your weeding, but if you've let some aggressive weeds encroach on garden borders, dig them up as best you can. Be careful about how to dispose of them. For example, please don't throw them on the compost heap or make a weed pile behind the shed. Instead, put them into trash barrels or cover them with a tarp or garden cloth to kill them off.
- Break Up and Replant Bulbs If you haven't done so already, dig up spring bulbs and divide any that have multiplied to the point of overcrowding. Loosen the soil carefully around where the plants were so you can retrieve bulbs without damaging them. Once you find them, divide and replant. Tulips, daffodils, and crocuses will wait patiently in the ground for early Spring. Dig up and store Fall bulbs but make sure to dry them thoroughly.
- Prune and Divide Perennials Some perennials may have overgrown their space and begun interfering with other plants around them. Moving a few plants to different locations and cutting back a little of what's left can provide space and sunshine to future plantings. However, avoid over-pruning, especially those with seed heads that will feed birds throughout the Winter. Leave enough stalks and leave to protect the plant's roots.
This is an excellent time to trim or transplant many other plants, although some species like blueberries and fennel prefer Spring pruning. Roses like Fall pruning, as do many herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme.
- Tool Care Clean and check over both hand and power tools. If any need repairs or sharpening, it's better to do it now. For rust removal, use wire brushes and sandpaper. For sharpening, try a whetstone or sharpening file. To protect sharp metal surfaces through the wet and cold, oil them with a rag and light machine oil. Some might need replacement parts like the line for that trimmer. Give your lawnmower a good cleaning and drying before storing it for the Winter.
- Plant Cover Crops In some regions, planting cover crops can protect garden soil from eroding and provide additional nutrition for your next vegetable garden. Plant cover crops like rye, clover, or field peas about a month before the first frost. Do a little research to find out what works best where you live.
- Harvest the Compost Now is the time to use the finished compost materials. See instructions above about replenishing the soil. Once you've harvested usable compost materials, refill them with fall leaves, straw, kitchen food waste, sawdust, and cleared plant material. Keep those microbes working during the cold weather.
- Irrigation Care Whether your watering system is a hose and sprinkler or underground irrigation system, you must winterize it. With a hose, shut the water source off for the outside spigot and run the hose until there's no water left in the system. This should empty any outdoor pipes, too. In areas that don't get several days of freezing temperatures, you might not need to do this but, better safe than sorry. Irrigation systems are trickier, and each one is a bit different. YouTube has good instructional videos to help if you want to winterize and shut down the system yourself. Otherwise, contact professionals. You can usually get a good maintenance deal that includes shutting things down and getting them up and running again in Spring.
- Reviewing and Planning In addition to the physical work, there's some mental work to be done. Review what has gone well and what problems you've had. Have some fun planning for next year. Decide on new plantings, plan new gardens, and consider landscaping and hardscaping possibilities. Spend some time drawing up plans for your gardening next season.