Gardening in the fall and winter makes spring garden tasks far simpler. Whether you are cleaning up a flowerbed or gearing up to grow vegetables all winter long, many garden chores are more easily accomplished in the autumn months.
Fall and winter gardening includes a number of subjects, each of which I’ll cover in more detail at upcoming library programs on “Winterizing Your Garden.” In the meantime, there are many books available on each of these subjects, including works by the author I like best on the subject of winter gardening and season extension, Eliot Coleman. His books include “Four-Season Harvest,” “The New Organic Grower’s Four-Season Harvest” and “The Winter Harvest Handbook.” We will discuss the following topics on Oct. 5 at the Southern Boone County Public Library, October 8 at the Callaway County Public Library and October 10 at the Columbia Public Library. (See the library’s program guide for details.) Hope you will join me!
- Amend Soil. The fall is best time for adding amendments to your garden soil. Amending in the fall gives microbes a chance make nutrients accessible for plant use. Many of the best soil amendments spend the winter months improving your garden soil by microbial action. Amendments include compost, manure, leaves and grass clippings. Amending in the fall allows the addition of less composted material that will breakdown over the winter.
- Prune and Sanitize. Pruning includes removal of dead material or diseased material to make into compost. Most perennials can be cut to 6 or 8 inches. Fruits trees should not be heavily pruned late in the fall.
- Compost. Make lots of good compost piles. Compost is the best soil amendment and the best use of garden debris. Decomposition occurs most rapidly during the thermophilic stage of composting (40-60°C), which lasts for several weeks or months depending on the size of the system and the composition of the ingredients.
- Cultivate. Tilling in the dry fall is easier than in the spring when it is more likely to be wet.
- Mulch and Cover Crops. These are used hold soil in place over the winter, preventing wind and water erosion. Four to six inches of leaves, shredded bark or straw will provide extra protection for perennial plants. Cover crops function as living mulch that can be turned into the soil in early spring, providing additional soil amendment. Common cover crops are clover, alfalfa, vetch, cowpeas and wheat.
- Season Extension. Use cold frames, greenhouses and row covers to grow vegetables year round.
- Cool Season Crops. When the temperature drops, you can grow salad mix (red and green lettuces, arugula, endive, etc.), carrots, spinach, leeks, mache, radishes, garlic and onions.
- Tool Care. Sharpen tools, oil handles and store carefully.
- Transplant. This is a good time for new trees and bulbs.
- Plan For Spring. Order seeds and plants for next year, prepare expanded garden space and get ready for starting seedlings indoors.
Alan is a horticulturalist and farmer in Ashland, Missouri.