Every spring I approach my garden with unbridled optimism that this will be the year that I become a “real gardener.” And by real gardener I mean one of those people who spend the summers in the garden cutting flowers, harvesting all their fruits and vegetables (that look absolutely perfect) and occasionally pulling a weed or two. I don’t actually know any gardener like this, but it remains a life goal.
In reality, I spend my summer shuffling hoses around the garden, engaging in an all-out war with snails, pondering what to do with a 10-pound zucchini and telling anyone who asks that the bed of monstrous 6-foot tall weeds was something I meant to grow.
So, why am I talking about spring and summer when it is so obviously fall? Because if I ever have any hope of achieving that ideal summer garden, then the work needs to start now.
Fall is an ideal time to do some prep work on your garden because the weather is not so hot that you give up after an hour and any hits or misses you experienced in the garden over the summer are still fresh in your mind and can be corrected.
One key garden chore to tackle in the fall is soil preparation. Over the course of the growing season the soil has used up a fair amount of nutrients and needs replenishment. The first step is to test the pH levels in your soil. This step may come across as a bit intimidating to some gardeners, but trust me that it is a far easier process than any other science projects you may have been subjected to in grade school. Soil test kits are readily available at nurseries and online and the instructions are pretty straightforward. Most vegetables thrive in a soil that is slightly acidic. On a scale of one to 14, the ideal range for most vegetables is between 6.3 and 6.9. If it comes in lower then adding lime will help. If the level comes in higher than 7.5, then it is too alkaline and in need of elemental sulfur. An added benefit of testing your soil is that if it doesn’t come in at the ideal levels, then you can blame all your garden failures on the dirt.
In addition to any amendments the soil needs, fall is a good time to add compost or other organic matter (read manure) to your garden beds. One to two inches of compost or organics spread out over the soil will provide enough nutrients to give your plants a good start next growing season.
Other gardening tasks to check off your to-do list this fall is cleaning out any remaining weeds, spent plants, and any fallen produce; laying out some drip irrigation hoses; and setting up any covers or frames you may need to protect plants sensitive to the cold.
If you still are keen on keeping your garden going in the fall, there are several options you can plant and keep flourishing through the season. Some ideas include: pansies, violas, garden mums, Russian sage, blue fescue, fountain grass, red maple, Japanese maple, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas, and artichokes. November also is a good time to plant bulbs that will flower as spring arrives, giving you hope that this year will finally be the year you become a “real gardener.”