After a long, hot summer filled with gardening chores, some gardeners are tempted to ignore their outdoor garden in the fall and just let nature take its course with the dying plant life. Don’t do it! Fall is the ideal time for preparing your outdoor garden for winter and getting a head start on spring planting. Follow these garden tips in late November and early December and get ready to grow an abundance of vegetables and flowers when warm weather returns.
Clear and Till
Remove all dying vegetation from vegetable and flower gardens in the fall. Pluck up vegetable plants and annuals by the roots and cut down perennial plants to the appropriate height and place removed vegetation on the compost pile. Clearing the soil will help prevent pests and disease from over-wintering in the soil.
Rough till the garden soil to prepare it for a fall cover crop.
Fall Cover Crop
One of the best ways to improve the quality of your garden soil is to plant a fall cover crop. Planting a crop, like turnips, legumes or clover, in your garden during the late fall and just allowing them to grow all winter will benefit the soil immensely.
The cover crop of choice will prevent soil erosion due to heavy winter rains, windy weather or snow melts, add nutrients to the soil and prevent soil compaction.
When the ground thaws in spring, till the cover crop directly into the soil. As the green plants decompose into the soil, they will enrich the soil with nutrients and help the soil retain water for growing crops later in the season.
Planting a fall cover crop is not only good for vegetable gardens, but also for landscape location where you typically plant annual flowers.
Apply Winter Mulch
A fresh layer of winter mulch applied to areas of the garden and around shrubs and trees does much the same as a fall cover crop. Adding a layer of organic winter mulch will help your flowers produce bigger and better blooms next year and keep the soil insulated and at a constant temperature to prevent flower bulbs from being forced up out of the soil through a process called heaving. A thick layer of organic winter mulch will prevent soil moisture evaporation so plant and tree roots won't dry out during the winter months. The mulch will also slowly decompose and add nutrients to the soil to improve fertility.
Plant Spring Flowers
If you live in a region that has mild winters, November and December are the times to plant spring flower bulbs. Daffodils, tulips and Dutch iris are some of the popular spring flowers that need planted in the late fall so they can go through a cold spell prior to bloom spring bloom time.
Peonies, daylilies and other perennial plants need to be dug up, divided and transplanted in November, if the ground is not frozen. Choose an overcast day that is not windy to do your fall transplanting tasks so plant roots will not be exposed to sunlight and drying winds.
Shrubs and Trees
Use the late fall months to prepare established perennials shrubs and bushes, like crepe myrtles, lilacs and forsythias, for winter by removing bottom suckers and adding a fresh layer of organic mulch around them.
After all the leaves have dropped, inspect fruit trees and shade trees for any signs of damage or pest infestation. Apply dormant oil if needed to treat any health problems a tree may be having so it can make it through the winter.
Do not prune shrubs nor feed shrubs or trees in the fall. Pruning stimulates new growth and so does feeding, and new growth is not desirable in the fall. Hold off on pruning tasks until spring and stop feeding all plants, shrubs and trees until the ground thaws in early spring.
All container grown plants should be brought indoors prior to the first freeze. Start slowly so the plants can become acclimated to indoor living by bringing them only at night and placing them back outdoors during the day. Do this for three days, then leave them inside all the time unless the afternoons are still very warm (above 75) in your region, then place the containers outdoors in the afternoon.
Saturate the container plants with water once last time before bringing them indoors for good. Water them until the water in running out of the bottom drainage holes to ensure all roots are completely soaked.
Prepare Garden Tools for Winter
Fall is the ideal time for preparing garden tools for winter also. Give hoes, shears and shovels a good cleaning and sharpening. Repair any loose or broken parts, oil the metal and sand the wood to prevent rust and splinters. Give garden tools a fresh coat of paint if desired, then store them away for winter in a dry location.