Autumn is an excellent time to be in the garden. From late summer through the month of October, you can enjoy a plentiful crop of produce, as well as prepare your flower beds and vegetable gardens for winter and a healthy spring season. Check out the following tips for a bountiful autumn garden.
Before planting autumn vegetables, it’s very important to clear out any decayed materials that remain in your garden from summer plantings. Many organisms overwinter in garden debris. To prevent your plants from becoming re-infected in the spring it is important to rake up leaves and cut down any diseased stems of perennials. It is safe to put the debris in a compost pile as long as the material does not include diseased plants.
Choose crops suited to autumn growing conditions. Gardeners in most states should have success with greens and root vegetables. Leafy greens (including spinach, arugula, lettuces, chard and mâche) and root vegetables (such as carrots, turnips, beets, rutabagas and radishes) as well as brassicas (such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and Chinese cabbage) and peas will all thrive in the cooler weather and shorter days of autumn. In many regions, some of these cold-hardy crops will even survive the winter to produce a second harvest in spring.
Brussels sprouts and fennel also do well in the colder months, and autumn is the perfect time to plant garlic and shallots for harvest next summer.
While most of these hardy vegetables can withstand a light frost, check with your local nursery to see which varieties work best in your region. Find out the average date of your region’s first killing frost, and plan to plant your crops early enough to let them reach full maturity before that date. Seedlings may be an option if it’s too late to plant from seeds.
Sow and Grow
Because you’re likely planting your autumn crops in soil that has already fed a spring planting, be sure to replenish the beds with a generous helping of vegan organic fertilizer and/or compost a few weeks before planting.
Seeds and transplants take off quickly in the warm soil if they have adequate water. To help retain soil moisture, surround seedlings with a thick layer of mulch. Finely shredded leaves or straw will keep soil moist while slowly contributing organic matter to the soil as they decompose.
As autumn approaches, frost presents a threat to tender vegetables in the garden. Although many cool-season vegetables such as root crops will survive a frost, other crops will not. It is usually best to harvest pumpkins and winter squash before a frost. If harvested after a frost or freeze, they will not store well.
One way to protect plants from frost is to cover them with a thick layer of straw mulch or leaves (pull it aside during the day), old blankets, tarps, plastic sheeting, boxes, or a floating row cover. Lightweight floating row covers protect crops down to about 28 degrees; heavier-weight covers will protect to 24 degrees. A cover is effective because it traps the radiated heat from the soil at night and raises the temperature enough around the plants to ward off a light frost.
Cold frames and plastic-covered tunnels supported by hoops are also excellent for frost protection.
Some crops are not affected by frost or moderate freezes and can be left in the garden until the weather becomes quite cold. These include kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Swiss chard and Chinese cabbage. Root crops (such as beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips) can be mulched with straw or leaves, left in the garden, and dug up as needed until midwinter.
Plant Bulbs for Spring Flowers
Autumn is the perfect time to plant spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils, tulips, irises, crocuses and hyacinths. By getting them in the ground now, you will ensure a colorful garden by early spring when temperatures begin to warm. For best results, plant bulbs once temperatures are in forties and fifties, but several weeks before the ground completely freezes. Plant them root-end down in a sunny location with good drainage, water them, and then mulch them after the ground freezes.
Dig Up and Store Delicate Bulbs
Some tropical plant bulbs (such as tubers, rhizomes and corms) that grow well in hot, humid summer cannot survive the cold, harsh winter. Dahlias, caladium, canna, elephant ear, gladiolas and certain types of begonias should be gently dug up and stored in a cool, dry, frost-free place until next spring when it’s time for replanting. You can store them in a bucket or box in your garage that contains some peat moss.