Fall Garden Preparation: What to do After You Harvest
After all of the work that goes into your garden, regardless of whether it's full of flowers or tomatoes, fall brings about the end of the season. However, when the garden withers down, there is still much preparation to do for the next year. Many gardeners don't realize that this time of year is the perfect time to start making amendments to the soil, preventing garden pests, and minimizing the number of weeds you encounter next spring.
One thing many gardeners don't do is clear plant debris in the fall. This organic debris is a favorite home of many common garden pests. Clearing debris such as tomato bushes and cucumber or squash vines remove many of these homes. Tilling up the soil in the fall serves several purposes. One of which is putting this surface debris in the ground, making it much less likely that it will play host to these critters. Another benefit of tilling in the fall is that this gives your garden refuse a chance to break down through the winter, increasing the amount of organic content in the soil and adding needed nutrients back to your garden.
However, it's not a good idea to till under debris from plants that have been infected by bacterias, fungi, or viruses. Likewise, plant matter that has played host to pests through the year (especially that of vining crops, since many vine-loving pests lay eggs in and around the plants) should not be tilled under. Instead these potentially infectious plant masses should be burned. This kills off as much of the infectious host as possible, and by far more than allowing it to winter over in the garden.
While clearing the garden is best done in the fall while it's still warm enough to be outside but cool enough to kill off pests and other organisms, it's also the perfect time to amend your soil. Adding organic material in the fall and tilling under for the winter allows mother nature and all of those great micro-organisms that live in your garden to take that fall foliage and convert it to nutrient rich organic fill in the spring. Using a soil test kit at this time is a good idea as well, as this will allow you to verify that your soil has the correct nutrient levels to promote healthy growth in the spring. Any levels that are too low are easily remedied this time of year by using the correct fertilizer.
Through the year, you may have accumulated lawn refuse. Don't throw it out! Why pay to have the garbage man take it away when you can put it to use? After you have cleared any infect debris and tilled under any clean plant matter, your soil is baron. In the spring as you are preparing to plant, weeds will begin to grow before you even have a chance to start. Be proactive (not to mention crafty) with your refuse. Spread your lawn clippings over your garden after it's been tilled up. This will hold water in, as well as keep weeds from growing readily in the spring when things warm up again. In the spring, you can till under the clippings, which will more than likely have been broken down through the winter. Keep in mind that green grass clippings add much-needed nitrogen to your garden, so don't be afraid to spread it on thick.
Keeping after your garden in the fall is great practice for great gardeners. Be ahead of the game, and nip problems in the butt before they cut into your harvest. Happy gardening!
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