Keeping a beautiful garden doesn’t necessarily require a lot of work, especially if you’ve already put in the initial effort and all you have to do is maintain it. But what a garden does need is ongoing attention to detail, as each season brings with it special details and needs. The upcoming season is obviously fall, so we’re going to take a look at what homeowners need to do in order to prep their gardens for autumn.
Before you can even start thinking about what to plant in your garden for fall, you have to actually get the surface ready. Just as an artist wouldn’t dream of painting on a used canvas while standing in a Dumpster, you have to create good circumstances in which fall plants can really thrive. Whatever weeds and leaves have found a home in your garden, gather them together and turn them into compost or mulch. If you have any summer vegetables, like tomatoes or peppers, that are leftover, use them as compost, too. Lastly, use a cultivator, hoe or rake to lightly turn over the soil and keep it fresh and arable for the new plants.
Of any fall plant, regardless of whether it’s edible or not, nothing says autumn quite like pumpkins do. The round orange bundles are used as jack-o-lanterns, scooped out to roast the seeds, glazed and used as decorations, and placed with other vegetables as part of a cornucopia.
To plant pumpkins and give them the best chance of success, follow these steps:
1. Pick a patch of soil where the sun shines full and bright, as pumpkins need warm soil and won’t do well at all in shady spots.2. Make sure your future pumpkin patch has plenty of room for pumpkin vines, because they’ll spread far, low and wide.3. Keep in mind pumpkins need a long growing season and take a lot of food. If you live in northern states, you’re better off just buying small pumpkins and transplanting them into your garden. If you live in southern states, close to Mexico or the water, then start planting them now.4. Use a lot of compost and manure, and plant pumpkin seeds right into the ground, going down an inch or two.5. Give them lots of food (e.g. fertilizer and compost), but make sure not to overwater them. Pumpkins don’t like soggy soil.
In the fall, the earth will starting to get progressively cooler, hard-freezing what lives in it — including valuable nutrients and minerals you’ll need in your spring garden. To help prevent this, you’ll want to grow something called cover crops, or plants that act as a barrier between the nutrient-rich soil (if you’ve composted and manured it enough) and the bitterly cold winter air.
Cover crops include plants like hairy vetch or cereal rye, plants that will protect the soil microbes during the winter and keep them alive and ready for the spring. And when the warmer months finally roll around again, your soil will have been primed for months and months, giving you a head start on next year’s planting. They’re really easy to plant, as you can simply drop the seeds onto the soil, gently raking them in. The only thing to remember is to start about four weeks or earlier before the first frost.
Greens and Vegetables
There are some edible plants that just love the cooler air that comes along with fall, giving you an abundance of autumn foods that you can supplement your dinners with. Plus, these greens act as nuisance and pest killers, giving you a natural and pesticide-free alternative method of keeping your garden clean and viable.
What you want to plant includes the following:
Kale: Add 5-10-10 fertilizer to the soil to get it ready, using enough to soak only the top three to four inches of soil. You’ve got time to let seeds grow into full kale plants, so drop them into the soil just under the surface (0.25 to 0.5 inches) and then thin them out after two weeks so the spacing is 8 to 12 inches.Arugula: Hold off on planting arugula seeds until the summer nights aren’t so balmy all the time, such as now (if you live in really northern states) or later in August. Add some compost to the area you’ll be planting the arugula, and then plant the seeds just under the surface of the soil, about a quarter of inch deep. Arugula likes the full sun and a spacing of 18 to 24 inches, but wait to thin the seedlings until they’re roughly half a foot tall.Radishes: These ones will grow really quickly, but they like cooler-temperature soil, so research the date of the first frost in your state and plant them no later than four weeks before. The seeds should be about half an inch deep and an inch or two apart from each other.Beets: You’ll need slightly acidic soil (pH of 5.5 to 6ish, even going a bit above 6) to ensure great growth of beets, as well as soil no warmer than 50 degrees. Just like radishes, beet seeds should go about a quarter inch under the surface of the soil, and about an inch or two apart. Keep the soil moist, otherwise dried out soil can cause the beets to taste bitter and woody.
If you plant now, in late summer to early fall, bulb plants will be the first flowers you see next spring. Think: daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, canna lilies, and more. They’re a fairly flexible plant to grow, as long as you get them in there before the first frost hits, but just remember to plant the bulbs that are adequate for your hardiness zone and to plant them as soon as you buy them. Bulbs also need plenty of sun and good, well-drained soil, with a few inches of compost working wonders for them. Once they’re in, use a 9-6-6 fertilizer to keep them growing strong.
In terms of actual planting technique, a good rule of thumb is to plant each bulb about three times deeper than they are wide. For example, if a bulb is three inches across at its widest spot, then you’ll go about nine inches down into the soil. And to guard against pests like voles, chipmunks or deer, place a cage around the bulbs, with the wire going down a half foot or more into the soil.