Fall is a time of settling in, of preparing for the big cold. In this class we’ll work through ways to prepare your garden for the coming cold months by participating in nature’s cycles.
Tidying spaces in fall when there’s not much going on in the garden helps set forth into spring with a fresh start!
- Put away structures like tomato cages & trellises, protect them from the elements for longer use.
- Remove dead annuals and tender plants from your beds, turn them into compost for next year! Cutting canes and stalks to 2” pieces will speed up the decomposition process.
- Taking time to clean tools with alcohol and a mixture of oil & sand helps prevent passing on diseases to next year’s plants.
- Prepare potting areas & work spaces by organizing & making sure things that would be ruined by wet weather are put away somewhere dry.
Cutting perennials to the ground or to old growth for the winter focuses the energy of the plant on the root system, giving it an opportunity to sustain life in the starches of the roots for next season. During fall clean up we cut back:
- Perennials like Rudbeckia, Daisies, & Artemesia down to the leafy growth at the base of the plant
- Ornamental grasses can be cut down to 2” of growth
- Woody plants like Russian Sage, Rabbit’s Brush, & Butterfly Bush can be cut back to 2” of growth after they are done flowering
- Roses can be cut back to the old growth (growth that remains brown during the growing season, usually close to the roots)
- Perennial Herbs like chives, thyme, oregano & mint can be cut to the base of the plant
For the most part, pruning is done in the spring, when plants are putting on new growth, however some trees & shrubs, namely evergreens, are pruned in the fall when they put on new growth.
- Evergreens like Spruce & Firs put on new growth called candles in fall. This looks like bright green, small growth at the tips of the leaves. To prune, choose the shape you’d like to see your tree or shrub grow into and cut back growth that goes against your shape. Be intentional with cuts, and step back frequently for a larger view
- Shrubs like euanamous, dogwoods, & viburnums are also great to prune in fall, as with evergreens be intentional & cut back to the next node.
While it may seem counterintuitive, fall is a great time to plant certain things like :
- Bulbs & Rhizomes like Iris and tulips, bulbs must be planted in fall because they need the cold season to rest & store energy before the warmth of spring wakes them up. Plant bulbs in holes 2x as wide and deep as the diameter of the bulb. Rhizomes like to be planted level with the soil, but be sure to protect them with mulch or compost for the cold season.
- Planting Perennials in fall is a great way to get a leg up on spring planting for the following season. Be sure to water & protect new growth with frost cloth during freezes.
- Sow wildflowers like Bidens, Echinacea, Mullein & Milkweed in fall, this can be done in spring as well, however, in nature, wildflowers drop their seed in late summer and fall, this gives them an entire season to settle, and break through their shells. For a fruitful germination, cover seeds with leafy mulch, or a layer of compost to protect from freeze.
- Sowing cover crops is a great way to keep a no-till garden. A good basic cover crop is Red Clover. Seed is cheap and the plant spreads, keeping the top layer of soil loose & healthy. For compacted soils, using daikon radish can break up hard to dig areas.
Composting & Manure
Adding nutrients to the soil in fall gives the dirt an entire season to break down the additions. This can be done a few ways, one can use manure (purchased from local garden supply stores or from a generous local farmer) or compost, either way, wait until you are ready to leave your beds alone for the season, then cover beds in a layer of media up to 2” deep. One can also use activated charcoal in this mixture to encourage nitrogen.
Some gardeners also practice trenching, in which they dig a two foot trench in the bed & bury compost, dry leaves, manure and/or hay in the trench, then bury it, and top dress the bed with more dry material like leaves or hay. This method is great for veggie beds!
If you keep a compost heap (which if you can, you should, it’s free compost), covering the heap with a tarp weighed down by rocks helps the soil to break down while protecting it from becoming too wet from snow and rain. Uncover in spring for happy, healthy compost.
Extend the Growing Season
Many gardeners use Colorado’s hot then cold then hot then cold style fall to grow far into winter by using Cold Frames. Cold frames are built to trap in heat and can be as elaborate or as basic as you desire. The best way to start is by using PVC or wire to make small half moons over veggie beds & stretching clear plastic over the structure. Some great fall crops are
- Lettuce, Kale, Chard & other leafy greens
- Radishes, Beets & cold hardy carrots
- Broccoli & Cauliflower
- Peas & Cold Hardy Beans
As the season’s tasks come to an end, it is vital to take time to reflect on last years work, and what you hope to see differently in the future. Ask yourself questions such as;
What was successful?
What didn’t work so well? How can it be improved?
What plants caught my attention this year?
What plants didn’t do so well?
What do I want to try next year?
Use these as a jumping off point for your spring planning!