When Fall arrives, gardening is far from over – it’s the second half of the season.
Fall is an important time of year for your vegetable and flower garden. When the days are getting shorter and the last of the tomatoes just won’t ripen, there’s no time to long for the dog days of summer, because there’s plenty to do.
Plant Spinach Seed
If you like to roll through Fall with fresh leaf vegetables, plant spinach seed in August so it will be ready for an October harvest. If you’d like spinach early in the spring, plant seed in October and let it overwinter.
Every few years you need to divide hostas, geraniums, daylilies and the like. Where hostas are getting too crowded, dig up the entire plant and dig out the center (oldest part). Throw the center hosta into the compost pile and plant the rest of the pieces in new locations. Many other plants just need to be dug up, carefully separated and transplanted. Rule of thumb is to divide spring and summer blooming perennials in fall and fall blooming perennials in spring. Here’s a nice fact sheet on dividing perennials from Clemson University.
Harvest potatoes early in the fall, before frost. If the tops of the plants haven’t already died off, cut off the remaining tops and leave the potatoes in the soil 1-2 weeks. This will stop the tuber growth and help the skin thicken so they store well. To harvest the potatoes, run your hands through the vegetable bed, feeling your way for them. You can turn the bed with a shovel or garden fork to find the potatoes, but be careful not to slice them in two. Store potatoes in a cool, dark, humid room in a bin. Do not wash before storage – leave them just as they are, dirt and all.
Mulch Garden Beds
It’s essential that you cover every square inch of your dormant vegetable garden beds and exposed areas of flower beds with mulch. Wind, freezing temperatures, snow, frost and ice will degrade your soil and possibly damage plant roots unless they’re insulated with straw, wood chips, or some other organic material. I always spread a thick layer of compost on the beds before I mulch them to feed the soil over the winter.
Plant A Cover Crop
In vegetable beds, many gardeners use cover crops over the winter. A cover crop is grown for its insulating properties and to condition the soil, and is typically tilled into the garden bed in early spring. Examples of cover crops are oats, hairy vetch, daikon radish, or rye grass.
One of the simplest vegetables to grow, mid-October (in Zone 6) is the time to plant garlic for harvesting next summer. Just buy your favorite garlic bulbs at an organic market, split the cloves off, peel them and plant them in about 2″ of soil, pointed end up (for standard size garlic – larger bulbs must be planted deeper). Make sure you mark where you’ve planted the cloves, as it’s easy to forget over the winter. New garlic foliage may poke through the soil before the first snow.
Spring blooming bulbs should be planted now. Plant in mid to late October to minimize the effects of any Fall warm spells which may produce early growth. Spring blooming bulbs need a period of chill (winter) followed by warmth (spring) to bloom properly.
Transplant any perennial which doesn’t like its situation. If a flower or shrub is struggling due to poor siting, move it to a different point on your property where it might do better. Fall is an excellent time to plant or transplant, because the air temps are cool but the soil is warm enough to encourage considerable root growth.
Cleaning up dead and decaying foliage is important now to avoid developing fungal diseases in the beds. The exception is dried leaves, which you can crumble right into the garden bed or lawn as compost. Gather up other leaves, stems and stalks and throw them on the compost pile. Beware of any blighted or diseased plant parts – your best bet is to put them in your garbage can to reduce the risk of infecting other plants.
Add leaves, yard waste and kitchen scraps to your compost pile and give it a stir.
Get busy, there’s lots to do!