Whether I care to admit it or not, winter is on its way in my neck of the woods. We are set to get our first hard frost this week, marking the end of the growing season. So, I’m starting to prepare myself physically by digging out those sweaters, hats, and gloves, and emotionally (how do I say goodbye to my flowers?) for the long winter hibernation. By this point in the growing season, we are exhausted and ready for a reprieve from the never-ending garden task list. It is tempting to grab a blanket, curl up on the couch with a hot beverage, and ease into the break that winter affords us gardeners in my growing zone. But not so fast; our gardens still need us! We need to complete a few more tasks before we clock out for that much-needed rest. So, set down that blanket, and let’s go through the fall garden checklist.
-Finish harvesting before a hard frost: Make sure to harvest any remaining flowers and edibles before that first hard frost hits. Then, preserve the produce by canning, freezing, or drying. Still, have green tomatoes? Harvest them anyway and try a fried green tomato recipe-they’re delicious!
-Collect seeds for saving and flowers for drying: It’s time to stop deadheading your blooms and allow the plants to make seeds. Collect those seeds to replant next season. Then, finish harvesting flowers and dry those that preserve well, such as gomphrena, celosia, and amaranth.
-Plant spring-flowering bulbs and bare roots: Fall is the time to plant tulips, daffodils, and other spring-flowering bulbs for beautiful spring color. Also, don’t forget to plant your garlic bulbs and bare roots such as peonies.
-Continue weeding until a hard frost: Pulling weeds now will prevent them from going to seed and reappearing in the spring, so don’t abandon this task just because the temperature drops.
-Remove spent annuals: It’s time to clear the garden beds and cut the annuals to the ground. Throw any diseased material in the garbage to prevent disease spread; all others can go in the compost. Peonies can also be cut back at this time. Leave most perennial stalks and seed heads intact for wildlife and insects over the winter.
-Add amendments to the garden: Fall is a great time to add compost, shredded leaves, and mulch to beds. They will cover the soil helping to prevent erosion, and will break down over the winter adding nutrients to the soil. Your beds will be ready to plant in the spring.
-Plant cover crops: Planting cover crops in your garden beds will protect and add nutrients to your soil. Make sure to either plant a winter-kill variety or cut your cover crop in the spring before it sets seed.
-Clean and sharpen garden tools: Before putting your tools away for the winter, ensure they are cleaned and sharpened. That way, they will be ready to go in the spring and will not spread disease next season.
-Clean pots and supports: Scrub and disinfect all pots and supports, such as stakes and tomato cages, before storing them for the winter. By cleaning these supplies, you will help prevent disease next season.
-Drain hoses and sprinklers before storage: Make sure to drain all the water from your hoses, sprinklers, and irrigation systems to prevent cracks from freeze damage.
-Purchase seed starting supplies: Fall is a great time to purchase all the seed trays and seed starting potting mix you’ll need in early spring. Purchasing these items now will ensure you have them on hand when you need them, saving you time and effort.
-General garden cleanup: Clean all garden beds and ensure they are nice and tidy before putting them to rest for the winter. Gather and store all garden decorations, stakes, and labels.
-Expand growing spaces: If you’re thinking about creating new garden beds or expanding existing growing space, fall is a great time to accomplish this task. By digging and amending the new bed in the fall, it will be ready to plant in the spring.
-Dig and divide dahlia tubers: In colder growing zones, dahlia tubers must be dug up, divided, and stored over the winter and replanted in the spring. This can be tedious, but when your dahlias bloom next season, you will know it was worth the effort.
-Evaluate your growing season: Now is the time to evaluate your growing season while it is still fresh in your memory. Ask yourself what went well and didn’t, and make notes in your garden journal.
-Dream and plan for next year: My favorite task of all! When all your fall garden tasks are completed, it’s time to dream of next season’s garden. Even in the dead of winter when the snow is flying, there is plenty to do for the garden. Start looking at your seed inventory, order additional seeds, work on next season’s bed layout, and plan a seed starting schedule. Also, embrace armchair gardening and enjoy planning the garden of your dreams.
Once you’ve completed these fall garden tasks and your winter preparation is complete, pat yourself on the back. You’ve worked hard all growing season, and your plants and garden, thank you. So now, pick up that blanket, curl up on the couch, and relax; it’s time to dream of what the next season will bring.