By late summer, many tired gardeners put their feet up, relaxed, and let out a sigh of relief. Throughout spring and summer, they’ve rearranged, cleaned, cleared out space, removed weeds and debris from the soil, and refreshed it. There are myriad tasks to complete in a very short time, so, naturally, people often forget about fall garden preparations.
The process is a bit labor-intensive but oh-so-rewarding. Below you’ll learn everything you must do to prepare your garden and garden bed for autumn.
Tools You’ll Need
If you like to garden, you probably already have the materials you need. Some of the most important things are:
- Garden gloves — safety first!
- Nutrient-rich potting soil
- Soil tester
- A rake
- Compost and a compost bin
Prepare Your Garden Bed For Fall
You’ll need to do three main things to ready your garden and garden beds for the fall.
1. Tidy up
When preparing your garden for fall it’s important to check all the boxes from simply keeping your garden kempt to pruning.
First things first, use a rake and remove all weeds, dead plants, and debris from your garden; You can use a hand rake if you’re cleaning your garden beds. By the end of the process, your soil will be nice and clean. If you find any organic matter during the process, add it to your compost bin or pile.
If you make compost, you know you’re likely to run out by the end of each season, especially if you are doing hot composting. Still, if you have any compost left, it’s best to use it up before starting a new pile or bin.
Lastly, if you’re growing and maintaining bushes and trees, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, roses, and fruit trees, this is an excellent time to prune them.
2. Prepare Your Soil
To prepare your soil, you’ll need to harvest all the crops in your garden, keeping an eye out for any seeds your yield may bring. Then test your soil to help your plants thrive throughout the upcoming season. You can use a professional lab service to test your soil, buy a home soil test kit, or DIY with household items. Just remember, professional soil tests take between one and two weeks to deliver results.
Now it’s time to break down the soil and aerate it well. If the soil is compacted, use a hand rake to loosen it up. Once the soil is loose and aerated, and after you’ve received your soil test results, spread 1 to 2 inches of an appropriate fertilizer or compost over the soil and till to mix thoroughly. Waiting until you receive your soil test results will ensure you pick the right fertilizer for your garden – patience is key when it comes to gardening!
Finally, spread about ½ inch of mulch on top of the soil to prevent weeds, pests, and diseases. You can use store-bought mulch or cardboard, straw, pine needles, etc. This will also help protect your plants during the upcoming winter.
3. Prepare to Face the Frost
With the temperatures steadily decreasing during fall, you’ll need to be prepared to deal with frost. For example, if you grow herbs in garden beds, it may be a good idea to create a miniature greenhouse, cold frame, or a hoop house for them if you can’t move them indoors.
Do I Have to Remove all Plant Residue?
Lately, there has been a heated discussion amongst amateur and expert gardeners about whether plant residue should be removed, worked into the soil, or just left there. There are pros and cons to each method.
1. Remove All Residue and Compost It
This is the most popular choice for people who make their own compost. You can turn tree cuttings, grass clippings, fallen leaves, and flowers into compost for your garden. However, some gardeners think removing plant residue will affect the soil’s nutrients and organic matter. Mitigate this by composting the residue and adding it back to the soil.
2. Leave It Be
Using sharp pruning shears or a scythe, chop residue into smaller pieces to help them break down and decompose faster. Then let them remain on the soil without tilling them in. This way, the nutrients from the residue will return to the soil, and you can avoid tilling to prevent accidental damage to the earthworm population.
There are a couple of downsides to using this approach. First, chopping the residue into smaller pieces takes time. It also takes longer for residue lying on top of the soil to break down than if it’s tilled into it.
3. Mix it Into the Soil
Mixing the plant residue into the soil is challenging but worthwhile as you’ll be adding nutrients. As you work the residue back into the ground, you indirectly break it into smaller pieces, making it more readily available to the microorganisms in your soil.
Unfortunately, in this case, if you don’t plant a cover crop, you risk making your soil susceptible to erosion.
Always Be Prepared
Preparing for the fall is challenging because there are so many tasks and little time to complete them. However, if you prepare well for this season of abundance, you won’t regret it. Above, you learned about the three main processes of preparing your garden and garden beds for autumn. You also learned about your options when it comes to plant residue.
Hopefully, this article was helpful to you and gave you some clarity when it comes to preparing your garden beds for fall. Share your thoughts and questions in the comment section below!
As always, happy gardening!