All good gardeners realize that the garden season doesn’t end when the blooms on the flowers fade. For your garden to be productive next year, an annual garden cleanup in autumn is needed, as well as a little bit of quality time spent planning for winter. Yet there are some traditional fall tasks that can be left by the wayside and it will actually benefit your landscaped areas – isn’t it wonderful when laziness pays off? Here’s how to prepare this year’s garden for next year’s bounty.
Keep the vegetable garden clean. One of the most important things to remember is not to get behind in harvesting crops such as squash, cucumber, beans, peas, and tomatoes. The debris is not healthy for growing plants, and the result is a messy garden. Even when you are up to your eyeballs in squash, keep on picking or your plants may shut down production. If your plants are putting all of their energy into growing ever-larger monster zucchini, they won’t be putting their energy into creating usable produce for you to freeze or can.
When the plants finally do stop producing, clear away and compost old foliage promptly and dispose of any diseased foliage or fruit by throwing it in the trash. If you leave debris such as dead leaves or decaying produce lying in your vegetable beds, it attracts pest and disease problems, which will overwinter and spread. Once that cycle starts, it’s difficult to stop.
If you grow zucchini, invest in a spiralizer. I’ve seen a number of gardening cartoons about the overabundance of squash, with gardeners putting them on neighbors’ doorsteps and in their mailboxes and playing “guess what’s in tonight’s supper.” No gardener wants to throw away something they’ve planted, not when you can watch the look on your friends’ or neighbors’ faces when you bring over another zucchini dish. This is where a spiralizer comes in handy. With it, you can easily cut your zucchini into “spaghetti” and mix it with butter and cheese or pesto or eat it cold tossed in vinaigrette with a variety of vegetables. It’s perfect for people eating paleo or gluten-free diets or just for convincing your kids to eat more vegetables. My favorite blog for recipe ideas is Inspiralized.
Prepare for your winter garden. Just because the weather is getting colder doesn’t mean you can’t continue to garden. If you live in southern states, you can grow a wide array of crops. If you’re in the northern states, you can use winter-protection devices to make your growing season longer. Some protection devices that can be used include a cold frame, a simply-made greenhouse, the quick-hoop system, or a floating row cover for extra protection from the chilly nights. You can also cover your plants at night with old blankets or sheets. Another option is to put hay bales along the sides of your garden bed and then place old windows on top across the hale bales. This makes a greenhouse effect for better growing conditions.
Some of my favorite crops for winter include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, leeks, turnips, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, Asian greens, spinach, lettuce, and arugula. Now’s the time to get these off to a good start, as growth will slow exponentially as the weather cools.
Use up apples in an Apple Blossom cocktail. If you have an abundance of apples, you can always make Apple Blossom cocktails. These are made with apple juice, applejack, lemon juice, and a sweetener such as maple syrup. This is a great fresh fall cocktail to sit back and relax with after cleaning your garden for fall. Here’s an easy recipe:
3 parts applejack
2 parts apple juice, fresh-pressed
1 part lemon juice
1 drizzle maple syrup
1 slice lemon
How to mix:
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes, add all ingredients, and shake vigorously. Strain into a champagne flute, and garnish with the slice of lemon. Alternately, this can be made as a blended drink for a slushy autumn treat.
Consider sharing your harvest. If you have an overabundance of squash, potatoes, apples, or other crops, you could share them with a local food pantry. Some food pantries have a volunteer network of gleaners who will come and pick your fruit for you. Other communities need you to pick the fruit and then drop it off at a certain location. If there isn’t a food pantry that accepts donations of fresh produce, consider contacting a local church, which may have a food program with less stringent rules or may be connected to people who could use the extra help.
Leave the leaves on ornamental parts of the landscape. The benefits of letting fall leaves stay where they land instead of bagging them up or burning them are many. The leaves hold moisture in soil and allow native insects, the base of the food chain that feeds spring’s baby birds, to overwinter safely.
On the lawn, leaves should be shredded by running the mower over them without the bag attachment so the shredded leaves stay on the lawn. This will help keep large leaves like maple leaves from smothering the lawn and killing sections of it. Also, it’s a good idea to either shred and put back leaves over your garden beds or periodically fluff the leaves to make sure they aren’t forming a rot-producing mat over delicate perennials.
The only exception is under disease-prone plants such as roses, which should be kept clear of dead foliage at all times.
After a productive growing season, using up the last of your harvest and preparing the garden for winter is an untold pleasure that will allow you to feel comfortable reclining by the fire as the days become shorter and the nights become cooler.
Genevieve Schmidt is a professional landscape designer and the writer behind www.NorthCoastGardening.com. She has written for Fine Gardening, Garden Design, and many other prestigious publications. Appointed in 2010 to the Design Review Commission of Arcata, CA, she reviews landscaping plans for commercial and historic properties in her city. You can follow her on Twitter @NcoastGardening.