Leaves on trees are turning brown, temperatures are dropping, and the plants in your garden are wilting, turning brown and dying off. Summer is all but over, and fall is here! Time for sweaters and scarves, pumpkin spiced everything, and garden clean-up time!
Start by Finishing (the Harvest)
You worked hard all summer to painstakingly weed, trim, fertilize, rake, hoe and generally toil away in the garden to cultivate happy, healthy plants so they’d produce a bountiful harvest. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the fruits of your labor all summer, as well, but I’m sure there’s still one final harvest to get. Don’t let anything go to waste!
For your herbs, you can go a couple of ways. If you’ve planted herbs in the ground, cut them all back and get them in the freezer, dehydrator, or into some oil to infuse. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry your herbs in the microwave or use the oven to dehydrate them. Once you have your herbs dehydrated, transfer them to airtight containers (like Mason jars) and store in a cool, dark place. Dig up the remainder of the herb plants (including as much of the roots as you can get) and discard them in the compost bin.
If you have planted herbs in pots, you can actually bring them indoors to a warm, sunny spot. Water well and harvest throughout the winter.
If you’re growing berries, you’ll want to get them processed immediately. Freeze them into some healthy whole fruit popsicles, or preserve them. You can even freeze them whole. Just rinse them gently, allow them to drain, and pat them dry. When they’re completely dry, put them on a baking sheet in a single layer, pop them into the freezer for a couple of hours, and transfer to a freezer bag.
The same general principles go for your veggies, too (…and by “veggies” I’m including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other things that are technically “fruits”). Pickle cucumbers, freeze tomatoes, dehydrate onions, make and freeze zucchini bread – anything to keep your precious food from spoiling.
Time to Clean Up Your Garden
Now that you have the harvesting finished, it’s time to do the actual clean-up. The first thing you need to do is to record the layout of your garden. Knowing what you planted where this season will help you plan your garden for next season. Rotating your crops will help control possible diseases and increases soil nutrition.
Using a sharp pair of pruning shears, cut back any vines (grapes, blackberries, raspberries, etc) leaving roughly six of the strongest brown canes for every foot of your row. New canes will come up in the spring. Mound up the soil around the canes to prevent hard frosts from heaving them out of the ground. Thin your strawberry beds and cover them with straw to keep them protected during the winter months.
To help them survive the winter, perennials such as asparagus and artichokes need to be cut back as they fade. Cut dormant plants back to ground level, sprinkle a little super phosphate fertilizer into the soil around them, and cover them with a layer of hay.
In the annual garden beds, remove leftover plants (including as much of the root system as you can get) and put them into the compost pile. If any show signs of disease, burn them or discard separately. Bacteria in these plants can fester over winter in the soil and contaminate next year’s plants. Next, remove all weeds and debris from the bed before the ground freezes. Rake a layer of lime and compost into the soil bed and either sow a cover crop (such as winter rye) or cover the garden with a layer of fall leaves.
If you have garden ornaments, don’t forget about them! Left out in the elements, resin ornaments can crack and peel – move them into your garage. The same thing is recommended with concrete ornaments – the constant freezing and thawing is likely to crack them. Birdbaths can usually be kept outside, but I’d make sure to empty them and stand the bowl on its side leaned against the base.
Cover your compost pile with plastic sheeting or a thick layer of straw before snow falls.
Store Gardening Tools and Supplies for Next Spring
Any stakes, tomato cages and trellises should be brought into your garage for the winter. Give them a good spray with the garden hose to clean them off, and allow them to dry thoroughly in the sun. Then, give them a quick cleansing using a 10% bleach solution to ensure there are no bacteria left on them to culture.
Organize your tools in your garage or garden shed. (No garage or garden shed? Build your own!) Before you put away your tools, clean them with a 10% bleach solution, sharpen any spades or shovels, and use a light coating of oil on the metal tools to prevent oxidation and rusting. Since I always have some on hand, I typically use WD40 (which you can actually get for pretty cheap in a one gallon can), but you can use motor oil, vegetable oil, or any kind of oil – you’re just coating the metal to form a barrier between it and the air.
Also, be sure to drain the fuel tank on your roto-tiller or any other power equipment.
Your containers will need to be emptied and cleaned up, too. Pull and toss dead plants, dump the soil into your garden or compost bin, and wash the containers in warm, soapy water and let air dry in the sun. Store them upside down in your garage. If your plants are still alive, you might be able to bring them inside and maintain them all winter.
When you’re finished using your garden hose to clean up all of your other tools, stretch it out fully on a downhill slope to allow all of the water to run out. Then loosely roll the hose up and store it for the winter. Hang a bucket on a hook in your tool shed or garage and use it to store hose nozzles and sprinkler attachments. If you have an in-ground irrigation system, be sure that it is cleared of water so it won’t freeze up and damage pipes.