With autumn having arrived, too many people think that the gardening season is over. How wrong they are! There is still some planting to do, and just as important, now is the time to prepare your gardens for winter.
The Autumn Clean Up
In many areas of the country, particularly in the east, late blight is becoming an annual problem for tomato and potato growers. It is a plant disease that can survive from one season to the next and can be both air and soil borne with devastating effect. Now is the time to start defending against next year’s possible late blight infestation. Make sure you clean out all parts of this season’s infected plants, including brown and rotting leaves that have fallen to the ground. Dig out all unharvested potatoes and rotted tomatoes that are lingering in the garden. The spores responsible for late blight will not reproduce this winter if you have gathered up and destroyed the live tissues needed for reproduction. It is a good practice to simply place the damaged plant material in a plastic bag and toss it out with the trash. Of course, crop rotation is an important technique in battling late blight so keep this in mind when planning next year’s garden.
Composting in the autumn is very important. Build a good leaf pile, toss in all your grass clippings, and eventually you will end up with something called leaf mold, an excellent natural additive to any garden.
Once you have cleaned up the garden, autumn is the best time to add a layer of compost and worm filled manures. If you live near the ocean, gather up a bunch of seaweed. I like to put it in black plastic bags, spray in a little water and seal it up. Left in the sun to heat up, it will start to break down and in the spring you will have some beautiful material to both aerate and feed the soil.
Some of your early and mid-season plantings are just about ready to harvest, but be patient. Brussels sprouts, carrots, leeks, horseradish. beets, rutabagas, etc. all do well even as the night temperatures drop. Many even sweeten up a bit after a frost or two.
Time To Plant
Now is a great time to plant garlic and shallots. Once they take root and the tops have grown a few inches, cover them with a nice layer of straw and in the spring they will be some of the first plants to show signs of life. In many parts of the country, there may still be time to plant lettuce, broccoli, radishes, cauliflower and some types of lettuce. Read the instructions on your seed packages and look for varieties with early maturities. Definitely, throw in some spinach. With a little cooperation from mother nature, it will mature later this autumn. If not, it too will winter over beautifully when covered, and thrive again in the spring.
Let’s not forget the flower beds. Plant bulbs this autumn and after a winter of dormancy they will thrive in the spring. Pansies that are planted now will last for a couple of years, but be sure to mulch heavily in order to prevent your soil from going through freeze and thaw routines that are damaging to the root systems. Now is also a great time to put in new trees and shrubs, and don’t forget the lawn. Cool season grasses like fescue, rye and bluegrass do very nicely at this time of year, so overseed and reseed wherever necessary.
Gardening is nearly a year round proposition. When you have final finished all the autumn projects, you may get a little time off in the December. By the start of the new year, it will be time to start planning for next season and ordering your seed catalogs. Not much rest for the dedicated gardener, but isn’t that the way we like it!