There are several chores to do that will help your garden spring back after the winter. Jobs like mulching, pruning, planting bulbs, composting and even amending soil or adjusting pH, can be performed in autumn, reducing the load of tasks necessary in spring.
Assessing individual landscape needs is crucial at this time and making a list of those items that need to be done now versus those that can wait until the growing season helps create a timeline and keeps garden chores on target.
- Cutting back perennials and pruning
Now is the time to cut back spent foliage and do some light maintenance pruning. Pruning to correct the way a branch grows or simply to remove broken or dead plant material can be done in fall. Some plants need thinning to enhance flowering and fruiting, which can also be done in fall.
- Pay attention to the compost bed
After a summer of throwing garden and kitchen scraps into your compost heap, it may be ready to use. If material is broken down and rich, dark brown, spread it around your plants. If it is still in the cooking stage, make sure it is turned and kept lightly moist.
Once temperatures drop, it can take longer to turn to compost. To speed things up, use a sheet of dark plastic to keep in moisture and turn up the heat on the pile.
- Plant spring blooming bulbs
For an outstanding color display, purchase and plant your spring bulbs now. Anytime until the date of the first frost is an appropriate time to plant spring bloomers, which usually need a chilling period.
If squirrels are a problem pest, lay a sheet of mesh over the bulb bed to prevent the animals from digging up future flowers.
- Protect plants from freezing temperatures
Spread 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch around the root zones of your plants. Mulching over bulb beds can also protect tender species. Mulch will conserve moisture, prevent weeds, gradually add nutrients to the soil and act as a blanket over root areas.
Pull mulch away from sprouting plants in spring to allow new shoots to penetrate and receive light more easily.
- Amend soil
Till in raked leaves, grass clippings and spent vegetable plants in fall. Tilling aerates soil and makes aerobic microbes work better to break down organic material. Do a soil pH test to see if it needs adjusting. Vegetables thrive in pH of 5.8 to 6.5.
For a spring vegetable garden, it is best to add lime (increase pH) or sulfur (decrease pH) in fall when it can have time to fully incorporate and adjust the soil pH.
- Start winter vegetables
It may seem like the vegetable growing season is over but there are several types you can grow into fall and early winter. Leafy greens actually taste best when started late in the season and harvested after some chilly nights.
Be cautious, not all greens can withstand freezing temperatures. Protect them with row covers or water walls. Early fall is also the time to plant some Irish potatoes.