Imagine a fall garden that is just as vibrant and productive as your summer garden. Then, follow these 5 steps to prepare your garden for a successful transition of the seasons.
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By late summer, many gardeners are weary and ready to throw in the trowel. However, the fall garden can be a wonderful change of pace. With cooler temperatures comes a unique set of low-maintenance crops.
Timing the Fall Garden
Gitty gardeners will eagerly start preparing for the summer garden in early spring, when frost and—maybe, snow—are still the norm. Spring is when we shake off hibernation and pretend that warm days are just around the corner!
A similar anticipation welcomes us in the fall. A fall garden can be beautifully productive at a much slower pace. Even so, the trick is remembering that, like the summer garden, the fall garden will need to be started months before the cool weather comes.
For me in USDA zone 6, I prepare for the fall garden in July and August.
To get an idea of your unique fall planting window, get my downloadable Seedstarting & Planting Worksheet as a free bonus when you purchase my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People!
The following are 5 steps that will help you to have a successful, low-maintenance, fall garden.
Step 1: Make Way for Fall Planting
When your summer garden is full and lush at the height of the season, it’s hard to think about fall. The last thing you want to do is rip out perfectly wonderful and productive, heat-loving plants to make room for cool-season crops. The good news is that if you plan well, you won’t have to!
*Plant Cold-Loving and Heat-Loving Vegetables Separately
This is an expert garden management tip. as you plant your spring and summer garden, group your cool-season crops (peas, leafy greens, root vegetables) together. Likewise, plant your warm-season crops together (fruiting vegetables) in another bed. That way, no heat-loving, summer vegetables have to be injured in the making of your fall garden!
**Clear Disease- or Pest-Infested Plant Matter
As soon as you notice an infestation in your garden, immediately remove infested plants. Throw away or burn all infested plant matter. Do not put it in the compost bin where the pest or disease could survive. In fact, this is essential to do before planting the fall season because you don’t want to encourage pests to overwinter in the soil.
Remember, a few pests are okay. They attract beneficial insects to your garden! See: Guide to Preventing Pests in the Garden
***Clear out Spent Plants
Harvest the seeds of any healthy crops or flowers that have gone to seed. Then chop and drop the plant matter directly onto the bed as mulch. Rather than pull them out, cut them back, and their decaying roots will feed the soil.
If you miss any seeds while harvesting, then you’ve just reseeded the beds for next year with little effort!
****Clear out Weeds
Now is a good time to clear out any other weeds that are growing in the bed. Many weeds are beneficial to the soil (see some of my favorite weeds here). Lay good weeds on top of the soil or underneath the mulch to decompose as fertilizer.
Now you can breathe!
Step 2: Assess and Purchase
Now assess your garden. How much space is available for a fall garden? Decide what you’d like to plant, depending on what month it is and what your hardiness zone is. In order to estimate the number of seeds or plants that I need to purchase, I find it helpful to draw out the garden on a piece of paper.
Don’t forget to save room for your fall garlic! In my zone 6, I plant garlic in October. Here’s my favorite variety.
Here are the planting schedules for my zone 6 garden:
I especially enjoy growing root vegetables! See:
Step 3: Amend the Soil
It’s always a good idea to amend the soil before planting. Adding organic matter will improve soil fertility and feed beneficial soil microbes that help plants to grow strong and healthy. Ideally you would amend the soil about two weeks before planting to let the soil assimilate the nutrients. However, don’t let this stop you from planting right away if you don’t have two weeks to spare!
Here are some of my favorite ways to amend soil:
- 7 Ways to Improve Soil Quality
- 9 Organic Amendments that Improve Soil Structure
- Make a Worm Bin for Composting Food Scraps
Step 4: Sow Seeds or Transplant
When should you sow seeds and transplant seedlings? Get my fall planting guide.
Now it’s time to sow seeds or transplant plants for your fall garden. Most leafy greens and root crops can be sown by seed, but you can also buy seedlings of leafy greens at your local farmers’ market if you’re short on time.
Be sure to water your seeds and transplants in well and keep the soil moist throughout the fall. In my geographical region, October is the driest month of the year. Surprising, because the cooler weather can mask the need to keep the garden watered.
See: 6 Tips for Success for more of my suggestions for gardening on a busy schedule.
Step 5: Protect Crops to Extend the Harvest into Winter
Fall weather can be variable from region to region, and unpredictable from year to year. In my region, frosts can hit as early as October, or as late as December.
Be prepared to protect your crops from frost so you can keep your fall garden going as long as possible. Depending on your climate, you could keep them going all winter long!
Cold frames and row cover are two season extension techniques that are relatively inexpensive and easy to store in the off-season. Check out my article about cold frames to learn more about extending the season.
You’ll find excellent tips for year-round gardening in Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook.
- Protect Cold Weather Crops with a Cold Frame
- Starting Seeds Indoors: A Step-by-Step Guide
- How to Prepare for the Winter Garden
>>> Get my free 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments for more ideas:
Have you tried growing a fall garden?