5 Things To Do in the Fall Garden
Updated: Jun 1
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Autumn is upon us here in West Tennessee! The days are pleasant and the nights are cool. The garden is still producing some, but the huge summer flushes of produce have pretty much ended. Every year, I have pretty much the same to-do list around this time. The same tasks need to be done year after year to prepare the garden for winter.
This to-do list is ordered chronologically, beginning in late summer to after the first frost.
1. Plant your Fall/Winter Crops.
For me, this is carrots and lettuce, as these are the veggies we like to eat the most. This can also include brussel sprouts, beets, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. If you can, you can plant these veggies from seed this time of year. The late summer heat helps them get started, and it cools down right as they are big enough to handle the cold. Grow these vegetables in the summer, and you'll need to fight off pests, burning leaves, and the plants going to seed before you get a harvest. Brassicas, carrots, and most leafy greens prefer cool weather.
Keep in mind, all of the veggies I mentioned above except carrots need to be covered if you get snow or heavy ice in your region. I live in a mild climate, but if there is a threat of snow, I cover my crops. Here is a good one.
Growing a fall or winter garden takes some forethought as it's best to plant these seeds in late summer. Here in growing zone 7b, I try and get my seedlings out the last week of August. That means clearing out a bed that's pretty much done producing for the summer (maybe some potatoes or onions that you can harvest), weeding, and preparing the soil for a new plant. Try to not plant the same crop in the same bed over and over again. Mix it up so that the plant takes and gives different nutrients to the soil.
If you're a bit late getting your plants out, you may be able to find seedlings such as broccoli and kale at your local nursery. Carrots are not usually sold as starts in nurseries. They are root veggies, and so do not transplant well. I also always have trouble finding seeds in the fall, as most places are already putting away the seeds and bringing out the mums and pumpkins for fall. I recommend stocking up on these seeds in the spring if you can and saving them for fall. However, if you still need to purchase some in the fall, these are my favorites.
See my List here of 10 Things to Plant in the Fall and Grow through the Winter for a complete list!
2. Prune for Optimal Harvest
To get the most from your summer garden before the frost comes, go out and prune the tops of your plants. Specifically peppers and tomatoes. This keeps the plant from continuing to grow vertically and instead forces the plant to put its energy into the remaining fruits. this helps veggies grow and ripen faster.
There's not much to pruning a tomato or pepper plant this way. Simply lop off the top above any branches that still have fruit. Make sure you make a clean cut and don't tear the stem. Here are my favorite pruners to get the job done. This should be done about a month to a month and a half before the first frost.
3. Bring in produce before the first frost
Keep an eye on the weather for the first frost. Before it hits, make sure to go out and gather up any and all fruit and veggies that will be damaged by the frost. This includes all stone fruit that you have left on your trees, apples, pears, and figs. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, etc. If you still have green tomatoes, bring these in too. They can ripen in your window or a cardboard box, and you can have garden-fresh ripe tomatoes into January!
I also usually cut back my herbs and bring those inside to dry in my dehydrator. Many herbs are perennials and will survive the winter, but herbs like basil and dill are annuals that will die with the first frost. Even the perennial herbs won't be abundant in the winter. If you have mild winters, you may still be able to go and get fresh herbs during the winter, but even here in Tennessee, I don't rely on herbs from the garden during the winter. I prefer to dry them, so I have plenty on hand for winter cooking! My favorite recipe right now with dried herbs is this sourdough bacon and herb grilled cheese sandwich!
4. Plant garlic
Garlic needs to be planted in the fall for a summer harvest. I usually wait until after the first frost to plant my garlic for the winter. This keeps it from sprouting too early. Simply break up bulbs of garlic for the individual cloves, and plant about 3 inches deep in the soil, large side down. By June or July, you will have a full head of garlic for every clove you planted!
5. Remove old plants and prep empty beds for winter
This is always the very last task I do in the fall. It's best to wait until after a few frosts, so that the plants have died and are easier to remove. Take shears and cut the base of the plant right at the soil level. Compost the plant (either in place on the soil or in a compost bin). Leaving the roots contributes to soil health. The roots will decompose over the winter, adding to the nutrients of the soil.
Once the beds are clear, I like to add a new layer of compost to them and/or a layer of leaves. Again, this is just another way to add nutrients to the soil over the winter months. Letting the soil rest is beneficial, however, it's not good to leave the soil uncovered. Leaves are usually accessible this time of year, so that's what I prefer to use.
And that's it! A fall garden to-do list! For me, fall can be busier than the spring season!
Want to learn more about gardening? Visit my homesteading site here!
You can learn 3 ways to preserve tomatoes! Or how to build an affordable fence around your garden!
What's been your experience preparing your garden for winter? Do you plant anything? Let me know in the comments!