Autumn: 20 Fall Gardening Tips & Techniques for Harvesting, Planting, and Cultivating Soil
The onset of cool nights and mild days doesn’t have to mean the end of your growing season. This chapter will walk you through the use of rowcovers, root cellars, greenhouses, soil tests, and other techniques to keep your favorite flavorful plants producing through first frost.
Divide perennials, plant fall vegetables, and harvest summer crops.
44. Harvest Pumpkins and Gourds
Tips on cleaning and storage
A ripe pumpkin has developed its full color and a firm rind; a soft rind indicates the pumpkin is not ripe and, if picked, it will shrivel and spoil. Once the vines die and turn brown, before the first frost, harvest your pumpkins. Mature gourds, on the other hand, can be left on the vine until after the first frost. Immature gourds do not dry successfully, and are prone to frost damage, so pick them early to use as decorations for fall and Halloween.
Zones 1 – 5, October.
45. Sow Seeds for a Salad Garden
Try carrots, kale, lettuce, and radishes
What to plant in September? Arugula, carrots, kale, radishes, spinach, and Bibb, butterhead, leaf, and romaine lettuce love the cool temperatures of fall and may continue growing through winter and into early spring if given light protection. A superior performer that does not mind freezing temperatures is maché, also called corn salad. This small, rosette-shaped lettuce has a smooth, buttery texture and mildly nutty flavor.
Zones 1 – 5, August.
46. Become a Seed Saver
Save money and help preserve genetic diversity
Open-pollinated, Heirloom seeds produce plants that can vary significantly in genetic makeup. Natural selection – Darwin’s theory – ensures that the most robust plants produce seed with traits that will ensure their survival – disease resistance, heat or cold tolerance, and better fruit production. Saving seeds from the healthiest plants year-to-year preserves these traits, giving the home gardener superior results. Store your seeds dry in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.
47. Plant Cover Crops
They protect and enrich the soil
Cover crops are a magic elixir for the soil, adding organic matter, suppressing weeds, preventing soil erosion, supporting microorganisms, and turning sunshine into plant food. The deep roots of many cover crops break up compacted subsoil, improving aeration. To attract and support healthy beneficial insect populations, allowing patches of the crop to mature and produce flowers attracts and supports healthy beneficial insect populations. Try crimson clover, wild mustard, and winter peas.
48. Divide Spring Blooming Perennials
Reduce overcrowding and have plants to share
Overcrowded perennials will begin to decline in vigor and even stop blooming. Dig up the entire plant and shake off excess soil. Here’s the hard part – take a shovel and chop it into several pieces. Though it may seem abusive or even deadly, your plants will thank you for it. Replant one of the pieces in place of the original perennial. Expand your planting areas with the remaining pieces or give them as gifts.
49. Plant Garlic
For a bountiful harvest next summer
A kitchen staple, garlic is super-food and medicine that should be a staple in every garden. Softneck and elephant garlic perform well in temperate locations and if you are north of zone 5, plant hardneck garlic. Loosen the first 12″ of soil in a well-drained, sunny location. Break apart the bulb, keeping the dry husk intact, plant the cloves 4″ apart and 2″ deep, and mulch heavily.
50. Set out Fall Vegetable Transplants
These vegetables love the warm days and cool nights
When you pull plants out of their containers, stress and root injury can occur. Water transplants thoroughly before planting to reduce stress and handle tender roots with care. Be sure that the top of the soil is even with or slightly below the top of the root ball, mulch around plants with 2″-3″ of compost, and fertilize with fish emulsion or compost tea.
Zones 1 – 5, August.
Prepare your plants for cold weather and harvest a few nuts.
51. Divide and Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs
Give them time to settle in for the winter
Spring flowering bulbs require very little care, but over time – three to five years – they become overcrowded and will bloom less or even stop blooming altogether. Dividing and replanting these bulbs, giving them room to spread boosts their health and increases flowering. Carefully so as not to damage bulbs, dig down underneath the roots and lift the mat of roots. Tease the roots apart and separate small offset bulbs that will mature and bloom in a few years.
Zones 1 – 6, September.
52. Bring Tender Plants Indoors
Tips for bringing your plants indoors and leaving pests outside
Some houseplants will grow more indoors in the winter than they did outdoors in the summer if they receive adequate light and care. Inspect for insects and remove or treat them with an appropriate organic pesticide. Submerge the plants in a tub of lukewarm water to bring soil borne insects to the surface. Repot plants that have become root bound or sickly, give all of your plants a light application of fertilizer, and gradually acclimate them to the indoor environment.
53. Build a Hoop House
Extend your harvest with this easy project
A hoop house is a basic greenhouse structure constructed with metal or plastic hoops covered in one or preferably, two layers of plastic. The air between the two layers acts as additional insulation, keeping the house warmer. Build your ground frame of 2″x6″ lumber placed on end in a level, well-drained area that receives full sun. On the interior of the frame along the longest sides, drive 18″-24″ lengths of pipe every 3′. Secure the hoops in these pipes and cover with plastic.
54. Build an Outdoor Root Cellar
Safely store your root vegetables for the winter
Perhaps the title should have read ‘Dig a Hole in the Ground’. The soil is an amazing insulator. Combine it with some straw or dried leaves, cover it with plywood, and safely preserve your root vegetables for use throughout the winter months. Dig your pit deep enough for your vegetables to remain below the soil’s surface, flare the sides to prevent cave-ins, and line it straw or leaves.
55. Fill Planters with Cool Season Annuals
Combinations of these plants will brighten any landscape
Follow the ‘rule of threes’, a classic design principle, and you are guaranteed stunning planters. First, you need a vertical element – tall plant – such as ornamental grass, snapdragons, or goldenrod. Next is the filler or a medium growing plant such as garden mums, pansies, or ornamental cabbage. And finally, choose a low-growing plant that will spill over and cascade down the sides of the container. Try lobelia, nasturtium, petunias, or verbena.
56. Harvest Nuts
Harvest chestnuts, walnuts, and pecan for a fall treat
What would the holidays be like without chestnut stuffing, walnut pound cake, and pecan pie? Harvest chestnuts, walnuts, and pecans after they have fallen from the tree – no climbing needed. The large spiny outer hull of chestnuts and the staining juice of the walnut husks, both of which should be removed immediately, make gloves a necessity. More elusive to the eye because of their smaller size, pecans can be harvested without the gloves.
Extend the growing season for leafy greens, grow citrus indoors, and get crafty with materials from the garden.
57. Grow Citrus in the Greenhouse
Their fruit is a welcome winter treat
Meyers’ lemon, key lime, dwarf tangerine, and dwarf mandarin orange are among the many citrus trees that grow well in a greenhouse under certain conditions. Citrus trees require six to eight hours of strong light, temperatures ranging from 60º – 85º Fahrenheit, consistent moisture, and monthly applications of fertilizer. Monitor carefully for pests – aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, and whiteflies, and keep the insecticidal soap handy.
58. Improve Your Soil
Feed your soil and it will feed your plants
Flowers, fruits, and vegetables exhaust the nutrients in the soil, so to keep soil healthy, nutrients must be replenished. Feed the soil and the soil will feed your plants; add organic fertilizers, compost, and other soil amendments. Healthy, well-balanced soil that is full of nutrients supports healthy plants, improve yields, and results in nutritionally packed, more flavorful fruits and vegetables.
59. Plant Trees and Shrubs
Cool air and warm soil stimulates root growth
Long after the air temperatures have dipped, the soil remains warm, and the roots of trees and shrubs continue to grow. Planting in the fall allows new trees and shrubs to “settle in” before the ground freezes. Dig the planting hole only slightly less deep than the root ball of your plant but twice as wide – soft soil allows tender roots to spread more easily. Backfill the hole with a 50:50 mix of native soil and compost, mulch heavily, and water thoroughly.
60. Protect Leafy Greens With Row Covers
Blanket these crops to extend your harvest
These “crop blankets” are made of a lightweight, permeable material that allows the sunshine and water in but keeps the chill air out. Garden hoops, while not necessary, keep the fabric well above the crop allowing for better air circulation – critical in the battle against diseases. Use landscape fabric pins, bricks, or long boards to secure the ends of the fabric or entrench the ends in the soil to keep out the cold.
Zones 1 – 6, late September and early October.
61. Build Protective Mounds Around Roses
Mounds of mulch provide much needed insulation
In areas above zone 8, roses are vulnerable to damage caused by cycles of freezing and thawing soil, as well as cold winds. After the first frost of the season, clear away any plant debris beneath the roses, and mound soil around the base to cover the bud union and up to two feet of the shrub. Add a thick layer of mulch after the first hard freeze.
62. Practice Proper Garden Hygiene
Keep fungus and diseases at bay with good sanitation
Remove any crop residues – foliage, stems, and fruit – that remain in your garden, as they will harbor diseases and provide refuge for overwintering pest insects. Diseases easily overwinter and thrive in a warm compost pile, so dispose of any diseased materials in the trash. Clean, growing containers, seed trays, and propagation tools with very hot water and dish detergent; and disinfect pruning shears with hydrogen peroxide after every use.
63. Make Holiday Decorations
Craft elegant wreaths from your garden bounty
Feathery plumes of ornamental grasses, grapevine, twigs, acorns, gourds, pyracantha berries, dried hydrangea flowers, pinecones, colorful dried leaves, and evergreen foliage are but a few of the materials you can use in fall decorations. Limited only by your imagination, combine these materials in wreaths, swags, and holiday centerpieces. Attach ornamental grass and berries to a grapevine wreath and place a gourd on the interior for a simple, but elegant decoration.
After fall fades into the snowy season, it’s time for you and your garden to hibernate—right? Not necessarily. The next chapter is packed with ideas, from raised beds to indoor micro greens and spring garden planning, that will keep you on track to reap next season’s bounty.