We all think about our gardens in the spring and summer, but we also need to be thinking about our gardens in the fall.
Just imagine the cool, crisp air and the smells of the leaves and soil. Autumn is the perfect time to prepare for next spring. The efforts we put forth right now will help us to reap the bounty of next summer’s vegetable garden, as well as the bouquets for our tables in June.
And the garden landscape we leave in the fall can create visions of beauty in the darkest months of winter, when we are nestled in our homes drinking cocoa and dreaming again of the long, warm days of summer.
So here are a few hints to getting the most benefits out of your late-season gardening efforts:
- Take a minute before you start your fall cleanup to consider what you would love to see come up in the spring, set it to paper, and if needed, read a bit about any new plants or bulbs you would like to incorporate into your garden. A little research can go a long way toward providing a glorious spring show. A great resource are various garden catalogues that begin to arrive in your mail in the middle of winter, or you can check out websites for vendors such as White Flower Farm, Burpee seed, Seeds of Change, and Fedco, to name a few.
- Consider your soil. Do you need to augment with any organics this fall to help support the healthy growth of your plants in the spring? Local community extension services can be a great resource for soil enrichment advice, and often provide soil testing kits. What you don’t want is to invest in a fertilizer in the fall only to learn that it should not have been applied until the spring!
- Prune plants back in the fall to prepare the vegetation to be most prolific come spring. Again, a little research from a trusted source—such as PBS Victory Garden or the National Gardening Association—can spare you from over-pruning and risking removal of the future buds you will be looking forward to. Additionally, through pruning and removal of stems and branches in the fall, you also remove the risk of nasty critters that like to winter over in the garden and create problems for your future plants.
- But in your eagerness to freshen your garden, be mindful that some plants are best left alone until late winter or early spring. The winter landscape can attract birds and small animals when plants that remain viable through the cold months remain in the garden until early spring. Cone flower, for instance, is a great source of nutrition for the chickadees that remain in New England during the winter months.
- And another benefit to gardening, any time of year, is your health! Gardening happens to be great exercise, an activity in which we stretch and bend and push and pull throughout the full gardening experience. Before, and even after, you enter the garden, it can be very helpful to do a few stretches, in an effort to minimize any aches that may come as a result of all that contorting you’ll be doing!
Whether you practice it independently or in a community setting, the simple act of gardening can foster a positive mental outlook and increased life satisfaction. Tending a garden can lead to a greater sense of peace in a hectic world. Whether you are creating a half acre of vegetables or simply growing a tomato plant in a pot, you are in touch with your ability to nurture something. So what are you waiting for? Go out and dig some dirt.
Beth Whipple, RN-BC, is a lover of movies, gardening (obviously), photographing flowers, birdwatching, and longboarding. She's always up for a laugh and has a soft spot for chicken piccata.