Proper end of season garden maintenance will help you grow more fruits and vegetables next spring. It can also help reduce weeds and pest pressure and make spring gardening more enjoyable. And it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, just focus on these few garden tasks.
The end of the summer garden is usually full of trying to get the harvest in and all the food stored away. It can be an exhausting time as you race against time to get it all done. When things settle down, even if it’s after your first frost, spend an afternoon doing a few garden chores that will help set you up for a better garden next year.
Depending on your climate, you might completely but your garden to bed for the winter. Or you might continue growing fall and winter vegetables in some of it and put the rest to bed. Either way, doing some basic garden maintenance is needed.
I like to focus on five garden tasks- clean up garden beds, build soil, plant onions and garlic, clean tools, and take notes.
Cleaning Up Garden Beds
Cleaning up the garden beds is one of the most important garden tasks you can do for next year’s garden. This helps keep diseases from spreading. To clean up the garden beds, you’ll remove all the plants, including any weeds.
Plants can be cut off at the soil line the roots left in the ground to decompose. This helps keep the soil undisturbed and gives the beneficial microbes something to eat. I like to add some worm casting to the soil to help increase the beneficial microbes, especially if I know there are some pathogens in the soil.
If the above above ground parts don’t have pests or diseases, they can be used as mulch or composted. If you’re not going to use that part of the garden right away, you can just chop the plant up and spread it out over the garden bed.
If you have chickens they can take care of plants that have pests on them. We give our chickens the squash plants I think it has helped keep the squash bug population down. Do not give chickens rhubarb, night shade plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, or any diseased plants.
You can also let your chickens roam the garden at the end of the season and they will peck and scratch and do a lot of the cleaning up for you.
If the plants are diseased, they need to be burned. If you compost them, you run the risk or spreading the diseases.
Winter is a great time to build soil in anticipation of next spring. I’ve already mentioned a couple of ways to do this – letting the roots decompose in the ground and using the healthy above ground parts as mulch.
Soil does not like to be bare. So it’s important to cover it with something. Ideally, that something will not only keep weeds down but it will also feed the soil.
Leaf litter is a abundant this time of year and is great for covering the garden. Just be sure to gather leaves from neighbors you know don’t spray their trees. Once you spread the leaves over the garden bed, you’ll want to water them down so they don’t blow away.
Chicken litter can also be spread over any garden area you aren’t going to be using for a while. We use the deep litter method in our hen house and I try to time its cleaning with the end of gardening season tasks so I can put it directly in the garden to compost down.
Cover crops are also good to grow between the seasons. Plant crops that add nitrogen to the soil in places you’re going to plant vegetables that use a lot of nitrogen. So maybe plants peas or vetch as a cover crop where you’re going to plant squash next season.
You might consider getting a soil test so you know if the soil needs any amending. If it does, you can use some of these natural fertilizers to feed the soil.
A lot of gardeners also cover their garden beds with tarps during this winter to suppress weeds. In the spring, they just remove the tarps and the beds are ready to plant.
Planting Garlic and Onions
Garlic should be planted in a fall for harvesting the next summer. Once it’s planted, you’ll cover it with a thick layer of straw (5-8 inches) and let be. In northern climates you won’t see any growth until spring. In the south, the garlic will just grow slowly all winter long.
Onions can also be planted in the fall and left to overwinter in the garden. Once the onions are established cover them with straw. In colder climates, zone 6 and colder, the onions will probably need some kind of frost protection, such as a row cover.
In warmer climates, the mulch might be enough, but I like to keep frost cloth on hand just in case.
Clean and Store Tools
Fall is a great time to clean and properly store your garden tools. There’s nothing worse than having to stop spring planting because you have to sharpen the shovel or oil the loopers. It’s best to this gardening task before they get stored away.
Here’s how to clean garden tools…
- Remove any caked on dirt.
- Wash the tool is soapy water with some bleach or white vinegar added to it. This will remove any dirt or pathogens that are on the tools.
- Remove any rust with fine sandpaper or wire brush.
- Sharpen anything that needs to be sharpened – hoe, shovel, shears, loopers, clippers, etc.
- Oil anything that has moving parts – shears, loopers, clippers, etc.
- Put a protective coating of oil on tools that tend to rust. I live in a very humid area so we oil everything.
- Wipe wooden handles with linseed oil.
Once the tools are clean, store them in a covered areas away from the elements, such as the garden shed.
I always think I’ll remember what went well and what didn’t in my garden when next year rolls around. But I’ve learned over the years that I won’t. So, I’ve learned to just keep notes. Keeping notes is one of the most important garden tasks you can do.
There are many ways of keeping a garden journal and if you are already in the habit of keeping notes on your garden in a way that works for you, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you’re just beginning or don’t know what you need to be keeping notes on, we have a post on keeping a garden journal that will give you some great ideas.
What end of season garden chores do you do?