It’s that time of year, when trees start dropping their leaves and the days are getting shorter. For many, it’s finally a break from the extreme heat of summer. For gardeners, it’s time to prepare for another season!
With all the cool weather, the motivation to get outside and in the yard is at a high. So, what do you do once you’re out there? Here’s a list of the best things to do for your garden – new or old – in the fall.
Please note that every hardiness zone is going to have a slightly – or very – different to-do list for fall. The following recommendations are best followed at least a few months before your average first freeze.
Summer is high time for pests, weeds and diseases. To lessen the impact of these on your future garden beds, now is the time to clean up.
Pick up any fruit that fell off of the plants or that you tossed to the side for whatever reason. Add the fruit to the compost bin, so it can be covered and decompose.
Pull up weeds that have overgrown or are starting to grow. You can toss them into your compost pile – just be sure to check the temperature. According to Weed Science Society of America, in order for your compost pile to kill hardy weeds, you need to ensure it heats up to 145°F for at least 30 days.
Take out any spent plants. It’s most likely time for your spring annuals to be added to the compost bin. The longer your plants stay in the ground, the more likely they are to attract pests and disease. You are better off removing them now.
Prune Your Perennial Herbs, Fruit Trees, Rose Bushes
As with sowing seeds, this is one of the steps where knowing your hardiness zone is super important. Be sure to read through the articles to prune at the right time for your location.
How/When to Prune
Prepare Your Soil
If you’ve done any reading about gardening, you know by now what everyone says about soil: it’s THE most important. It’s not just a cliche – it’s true.
Add compost and/or aged manure to all of your growing space. I always add at least a few inches to the top of the soil, but this can depend on your space – add what you can and try to do so at least a few weeks before any fall planting. If you just can’t wait that long, no problem. However, you do want to wait at least one day before planting directly in it. After adding the compost and/or aged manure, water the soil and let it settle. What you are avoiding by allowing it to settle first is the soil getting too compacted and your seeds, or the roots of your starts, getting harmed. After at least a day, plant your seeds or starts.
If you already have plants in the ground, just spread the compost and/or aged manure around the base of each.
This varies based on your climate. If you don’t already know your average frost dates, head here to determine your average first and last frost dates by clicking on Frost Calculator.
Then, you can determine what to plant and whether or not you have enough time before your first freeze. And remember the averages are just that – averages. Be sure to check the 15-day forecast in addition to knowing the average first and last freeze dates.
Plant Cover Crops
Cover crops are the perfect solution to enrich your soil, prevent soil erosion and suppress weeds all fall long, especially if you:
- are not planning on growing vegetables and/or fruits in the fall
- are not using your entire growing area for fall plantings
- have grown the same crop in the same space for a few seasons and need to replenish the soil with nutrients before spring
With cooler weather on its way, fall is a great time to cover your garden in preparation of low temperatures.
Mulch will help your soil stay moist longer, taking advantage of every raindrop, and it will help regulate temperatures as they continue to drop.
Learn more about the importance of mulching.
Start a Compost System
With all the leaves dropping, fall is a great time to start a compost bin! I have tried all sorts of methods for composting, including the super lazy “toss everything into a pile” method. While that method worked to get started quickly, the three bin system we are using now is working so much faster.
Research the different options and find what works best for you. Just try not to overthink it so you can get started as soon as possible.
Expand Your Growing Space
Sheet mulching is a great way to smother weeds while enriching your soil with more organic matter. You can sheet mulch now to prepare space for a spring garden, or plant right into the sheet mulch this season. One of my favorite gardening podcasts, Encyclopedia Botanica, shares more in Episode 22: Sheet Mulching.
Install A Drip System for Watering
Anytime is a good time to install a drip system to help take the task of watering off your to-do list. If you don’t have one installed yet, take advantage of the nice weather in the fall and install it now.
Installing a drip system for watering is my top recommendation for gardeners because it allows the plants to have consistent watering at the soil level, eliminating water waste and helping your plants thrive.
Learn how to set up a system and where you can buy one.
Clean Garden Tools
Some of my favorite garden tools are my favorite because they are easy to clean. The gloves I use simply need a quick run through the laundry, and the pruning shears, small shovel and trowel set just need soap and water to get the job done.
It’s good to clean your tools as often as you can to prevent spreading diseases and/or pest eggs in the garden. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to do this every single time, so spring and fall are the times that I make sure to do so.
When cleaning any tools that could potentially rust, be sure to dry them thoroughly before putting them away.
Prepare for Freezing Temperatures
Get ready for temperatures to drop by preparing your growing area with winter protection.
You can create mini hoop-houses with rebar and PVC pipe or purchase support hoops. Then, purchase a row cover (check that you have the right cover for your area based on your lowest temperatures – the link is for a row cover that keeps plants 4-6° warmer than outside temperatures) to lay on the top of your beds.
While it may be too early for your area to actually cover your garden beds at this time, having the framework in place will ensure you are ready for any unexpected early lows.
Now Get Out There!
With fall comes beautiful weather and, depending on your climate, lots of opportunities for growing. If you take advantage of the nice breeze and complete some, or all, of these tasks now, I promise you won’t regret it.