Autumn Gardening isn’t just about Clean-up
Think about gardening in the autumn and you might get mental images of raking leaves, clearing foliage, and putting the garden to bed for the winter. The game doesn’t have to be over though. There are plenty of things you can do in the Fall to grow cool season crops and prepare for next year’s edible garden.
Some of the things you could be doing now include growing leafy greens and planting garlic, onions, bulbs, and Christmas potatoes. Let’s not forget about soil building and things we can do for wildlife.
Plant Christmas Potatoes
Imagine digging up fresh new potatoes for Christmas dinner — if you plant them now, you can. Though potatoes from this year’s crops won’t crop until next year, seed potatoes that have been kept dormant will start growing now and produce crops in 12 weeks.
You can keep your own potatoes dormant all summer or you can purchase early seed potatoes now. Santa Claus’s bag of gifts will look paltry next to your clever sack of holiday spuds!
Grow Autumn Veggies
You can get away with growing edibles all the year round if you give them proper protection, light, and warmth. Grow them in greenhouses, hot beds, cloches, and tunnels to help fill in the hungry gap and keep your green thumb from getting bored. Just be careful when growing autumn and winter veggies that you choose the right varieties and techniques. Get the book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener and learn more from these articles:
Those who have tried planting garlic in spring find out soon enough that they should have planted in Autumn. Your crop will be bigger and healthier if you give it a head start and you can plant under protection if your winters are cold or wet. Once planted, I place my module-grown garlic near the house or in the greenhouse to give them cover. They get planted out in the garden once it warms up in March.
Plant Onion Sets
Not all onions can be planted in Autumn but those that can will crop earlier than spring planted sets. Just like garlic, autumn-planted onions have a head start so they’ll grow quicker, be less prone to bolting, and will produce a much larger harvest. They can also be planted into modules first if you’re afraid they won’t make it outside in the garden.
As temperatures begin to cool you might be left with unripe vegetables. There are two things that you can do with them at this point — cook them or try to ripen them. The most common crop to linger on in a green state are tomatoes, squash, eggplants, and pumpkins. Here’s some ideas for making sure they get eaten:
Plant Spring Bulbs
To have beautiful displays of spring flowers you need to think ahead. Bulb blossoms like tulips, snowdrops, crocus, and hyacinths all need to be planted in Autumn in order to bloom the following year. They need the cold season to spur their growth and you can plant them direct in the soil or in pots and containers. One of my favourite things to do is to crowd and layer bulbs in terracotta pots to set by the front door. They never fail to bring a smile to my face in early spring.
The single most important soil builder you can add to your garden is compost. You can add it as mulch all year round but applying it in the Autumn ensures that tiny organisms and worms will have a chance to incorporate it into the soil before spring. You can also use fallen leaves to create some of the best garden compost around so don’t throw it away after raking it up. Leaf mould improves soil structure and drainage and also creates habitat for beneficial micro-organisms to grow — it’s also free if you make your own. So don’t forget to apply compost and manure and to make leaf mould this Autumn.
Care for Wildlife
Dead foliage, logs, sticks, and other ‘garden mess’ creates shelter for wildlife so don’t clear it all away. Be mindful of picking off slugs, snails, aphids, and other pests up to the first frost but remember to set space aside for creatures to hibernate. Hedgehogs, frogs, solitary bees, and ladybirds to name a few. Also, keep your bird feeders full year-round but especially in the cooler months. Our avian friends need help in autumn and winter and are fun to watch from the window too.
Autumn Fruit & Berries
Apples, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, and many more delicious fruits are ready for picking in Autumn. Make sure to keep on top of the picking and to remove any apple windfalls from the ground, where they rot and attract disease and vermin. On a sunny day, make the most of it and head for the hedgerows where wild berries are ripe for the picking. It’s a good excuse to get outside for a walk and you can use your gleanings to make jam, wine, and pies.
More Lists of Things to Do
If you’d like to see even more things you could be doing in the garden this Autumn, here are several comprehensive Fall garden check-lists. Have a read and enjoy getting things done in the crisp Autumn air.
Fall Gardening Check-list
10 Gardening Jobs for Late Fall
Fall Garden Check-list
After the Harvest Fall Gardening List
7 Tips to Prepare Your Vegetable Garden for Winter
Putting Your Vegetable Beds to Bed