Fall Gardening Jobs

Friday, September 18th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose chrysanthemums in a variety of colors now. They are hardy perennials which will brighten your garden each fall.
    • Cool season vegetables should be planted right away to grow fresh produce this fall.
    • Holland flower bulbs are now available for fall planting. These lovely gems will bloom for you next spring.
    • Fertilize lawns now to build up root systems for a healthy lawn.
    • Fruit trees can be planted in the fall from containers to get a head start on next spring.

Cover Crops to Improve your Garden

Healthy plants begin with healthy soil. Often, the best way to improve your soil is to increase the amount of organic matter in it. Doing so will improve the soil structure and increase the activity of microorganisms that help create a rich, productive soil.

Organic matter is usually added by hauling in truckloads of manure or other compost. But there is an easier way. By seeding green manure crops in the fall and letting them grow over the winter, you are growing your own compost which can be turned into the soil next spring, about three weeks before you are ready to plant the summer garden. These “cover crops” also protect the soil from erosion, decrease the leaching of nutrients, and reduce compaction caused by winter rains.

There are two kinds of cover crops: grasses and legumes. Grass cover crops germinate quickly and put on enough growth in the fall to protect the soil over the winter. Annual ryegrass is the best plant for breaking up hard soil. It sends down miles of tiny roots adding pounds of humus to the soil when it decomposes. Winter rye, or ryegrain, is also an annual grass which is very hardy. It can be planted from late summer to late fall and will grow in poor soils.

Legumes include fava beans, crimson clover and vetch. Legumes are slow to develop in the fall but grow rapidly the following spring, providing nitrogen and biomass for the summer vegetable crop. These important crops are able to take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that is usable by plants, thus adding nitrogen to the soil. At the same time, their root systems loosen and aerate the soil, improving the soil structure.

Crimson clover is an annual which blooms with beautiful red clover flowers in the spring. It likes well-drained soils and has a dense root system. Purple vetch prefers loam soils and should be planted before the weather gets too cold. Hairy vetch is the most winter-hardy of the vetches. It tolerates wetter soils and can be planted with ryegrass.

Fava beans come in two types: horse beans and bell beans. Horse beans can be grown to maturity and eaten. Bell beans are used strictly for a cover crop. These plants grow three to four feet tall and it is best to compost the stalks in the spring and turn in the stubble.

Mixed cover cropping with bell beans and ryegrain has long been used by farmers. The ryegrain produces large amounts of biomass and suppresses weed growth while the bell beans add nitrogen to the soil. Studies have shown that this combination actually increased the soil nitrogen more than the bell beans alone.

As soon as summer crops come out, cover crops can be planted in their place. The sooner they are planted, the more they can grow before the weather turns cold. Plants grow through the winter and are tilled into the soil in early April. By enriching your soil through cover cropping each winter, your garden will become increasingly fertile, reducing the need for fertilizers and soil conditioners, and providing you with bountiful harvests every year.