Preparing Garden Soils for Spring

    • Plant snapdragons, pansies and violas for color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Plant cover crops in areas of the garden that have finished producing for the summer. Crimson clover, vetch and fava beans will grow over the winter and enrich the soil for next year.
    • Set out rhubarb and artichoke plants now so you can enjoy their produce next spring.
    • Fall is for Planting! Trees, shrubs, lawns, ground covers and bulbs get a jump on spring if you plant them now.

Preparing Garden Soils for Spring

Fall should not be viewed as the end of the gardening season, but as the beginning of next year’s garden. Proper soil preparation now will go a long way to improve next year’s harvest and reduce the amount of spring garden work.

You don’t have to be in a rush to clean out crops if you can still harvest some green tomatoes or a sweet pepper or two. But when the season is over, cleaning out the dead plants prevents the overwintering of diseases and harmful insects. As you finish harvesting, pull up the plants, place them in the compost pile or, if diseased, throw them in the garbage or the green waste.   

If weeds have gotten away from you and gone to seed, try to carefully cut off the seed heads first and put them in a garbage bag so they won’t disperse around the garden as you pull up the plants. For perennial weeds, make sure to remove any roots, or they will regrow next year.  Tilling them in will only break up the roots into many more pieces, multiplying your problem next season. 

If you can get the garden cleaned up by early fall, you can plant a cover crop.  This is simply a crop such as crimson clover or fava beans that will protect the soil from erosion, and add organic matter to the soil. It serves as “green manure” when it is tilled back into the soil next spring. If you are preparing a new area to be a garden space next year, plant annual ryegrass there to break up the soil with its deep roots.

If frosts have begun, it is probably too late to establish a cover crop before winter. In that case, add 1 to 2 inches of compost or manure on top of your beds and mulch the bare areas of the garden. Organic matter loosens heavy clay soils, adds nutrients and by attracting all those soil microorganisms, makes the soil healthier. Several inches of amendments added in both spring and fall, as well as the use of cover crops, will substantially enhance the quality of your soil.

When the garden season is over and done with, and everything is cleared out and put to bed, then it’s time to plant garlic! Break the bulb into cloves then make a furrow about 3 inches deep and place the cloves in it, 4-6 inches apart. Be sure to plant the cloves pointed end up. Make your rows 6-12 inches apart. Rake the soil back over the cloves, so that they are covered by 2 inches of soil, and water the bed well. Each clove will develop into a full head of garlic by next summer.

You can still plant crops like kale, collards and spinach from starts. Onions can be planted from seedlings and they produce next year. These vegetables don’t mind the cold weather and will give you fresh greens as the weather cools.

Enjoy the warm fall days by spending some time in your garden.

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