10 Ways to Prepare Your Garden for the cooler months!

Autumn is here, and with it comes the inevitable slowing down of activity in the garden.
After the rush of spring planting and the peak of summer’s harvest, it’s tempting to shut the garden gate and let nature take its course. After all, you’ve done the heavy lifting and reaped summer’s benefits. What more can be done to prepare your garden for next Spring?

With a few careful steps executed now you will save time and effort in the long run. If you don’t want to leave to the last minute and overwhelm yourself, try some of these suggestions.

1. Clean up rotting and finished plants.

Besides looking untidy, old plants can harbour disease, pests, and funguses. Removing spent plants from the soil surface or burying them in garden trenches (if they are disease-free) prevents pests from getting a head start come springtime. Burying old plants in your garden also adds organic matter to your soil, improving soil and overall health. 

2. Remove invasive weeds.

Now is the time to deal with those renegade weeds. Dig them up and place the viable weeds in a compost heap or weed pile, resist the urge to simply shift them to another part of your garden. Removing invasive plants completely is the only way to prevent those plants from sprouting all over again and disrupting next year’s crop. 

3. Prepare your soil for spring.

Despite the fact that most people reserve this activity for the spring, fall is a great time to dig in soil amendments like manure, compost, bone meal, kelp, and rock phosphate. In most climates, adding nutrients at this time of year means the additions have time to start breaking down, enriching your soil, and becoming biologically active. It also means you won’t have to wait until your garden dries out in the spring to work the soil for the first time. Amending, turning, or digging soil now means you’ll have already done some of the work when the busy season hits.

Once you’ve added any amendments, you can cover the bed with sheet plastic or other covering to prevent winter rains from washing the amendments below the active root zone; this applies especially, to raised beds since they drain more readily than in-ground beds. Remove the sheeting in early spring and prepare your garden for spring planting.

4. Plant cover crops.

In many climates, late summer or early fall is a good time to sow cover crops like rye, vetch or clover. These crops help prevent soil erosion, break up compacted areas and increase levels of organic matter in garden beds. Cover crops also add nutrients. Planting legumes in your garden such as clover or field peas can increase the levels of available nitrogen for garden vegetables. While a general guideline is to plant cover crops approximately one month before your first frost, some cover crops are hardier than others.

5. Prun perennials.

Autumn is a good time to trim some perennial garden plants, though take care to ensure you choose the right ones.

6. Divide and plant bulbs.

Although spring bulbs have long since flowered and died back, there are some other flowering bulbs that could be divided and planted. Three to four weeks after that glorious array, it’s time to dig up and divide any plants that appeared crowded or straggly during the growing season.

7. Harvest and regenerate your compost.

Now that the heat of summer is over and nature’s microbes are settling in for their winter’s nap, you may be tempted to ignore your compost heap. This would be a missed opportunity in two ways. First, material composted over the summer is probably finished and ready to go. Using this rich material to top up garden beds, amend deficient soils, or fertilize lawns and landscaping will nourish your soil and jumpstart growth come springtime. Second, cleaning out finished compost means making way for another batch, which—in most areas—can be insulated against winter’s chill.

To keep those microbes working a little bit longer, build your fall compost heap with plenty of autumn leaves, straw, or sawdust layered with kitchen scraps and other active, green matter.

8. Replenish mulch.

Mulching in winter has many of the same benefits as summer mulching. These include reducing water loss, protecting the soil from erosion, and inhibiting weeds. But winter mulching has other benefits as well: as the soil transitions to colder weather, the freezing and thawing of the earth can adversely affect garden plants, whose roots suffer from all that churning and heaving. Adding a thick layer of mulch to the soil surface helps regulate soil temperatures and moisture and ease the transition into winter. A thick layer of mulch around root vegetables left in the garden for your fall and winter harvest can also buffer against hard frosts and prolong your crop. And as the mulch breaks down it incorporates fresh organic material into your soil.

9. Review your garden and assess your success and failures.

Did the varieties of fruits and vegetables, planted this season perform adequately in your garden? Now is the time to reconsider under-performing plants and find out if a better variety exists for your location. If your plants are performing adequately, consider extending your harvest by adding varieties that ripen earlier or later in the season. When considering vegetable performance, take careful notes for next season about what worked and what didn’t. Some of the season’s successes and failures can be chalked up to weather, but others are within your control. These include soil fertility, moisture levels, and plant placement. Although you might think you’ll remember the highs and lows of summer come springtime, recording these in your garden journal now will provide more information in the end. 

10. Clean and sharpen tools.

Although most gardeners know they should keep tools clean and well oiled throughout the year, it’s difficult to keep up with this task when gardening is in full swing. Fall is a great time to rejuvenate your tools’ lifespan by giving them some attention. Begin by washing tools to remove dirt and debris. If rust is present, remove with sandpaper or a wire brush and sharpen.

Finally, rub the surfaces of your tools with an oiled rag coated in light machine oil. This will help seal the metal from oxygen and extend your tools’ lives for another year. 

Thinking Ahead

Wherever you live, there are always steps you can take to prepare for next year’s gardening season. Taken now, these steps will not only help your spring and summer run more smoothly they can also improve your yields over the long term.


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