Fall Garden Care: Winterizing Vegetable, Annual and Perennial Beds

October 7, 2013
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Lots of people have their lawns and their trees, and aside from raking in the fall and maybe winterizing their lawns there isn’t too much yardwork, even in the fall. But if you like to garden, plant, prune, harvest and weed, there’s a lot of work to be done in the fall before you oil your tools and put them away for the winter.

Let’s look at the most common gardener’s chores

Putting the Vegetable Garden to Bed

The last of summer’s bounty has been eaten or stored away. But what do you do with the desiccated stems and leaves that bore your crop of squashes, potatoes, and corn? Likely, you already have a compost pile. But don’t add them to it right away! If you have any compost that’s ready to go, you’ll want to take it out first so that you can top-dress your beds. Then you can add all the leftover plant matter from your garden. Don’t leave it there, or you can harbor disease in your soil.

Once you’ve cleared the plant material away, and added the compost, you may want to check the pH of your soil. If it’s too acidic, add lime. If too alkaline, add sulphur. You will want to do this in the fall because it will take several months to take effect. The spring will be too late!

Some people do not till in the autumn, since some experts say excessive tilling damages the structure of the soil, hastening erosion. However, you need to turn the compost (and lime or sulphur) under, and I would suggest that planting a winter cover crop like annual clover will build the soil and prevent erosion. The benefits of putting in a cover crop in the winter far outweigh the damage of the tilling.

Cleaning out Perennial Beds

Perennial beds are the ultimate in easy care. Simply clean out the dead plant matter, and lay down mulch. There is one argument against this; if you want to encourage the overwintering of certain insects, it’s best to leave the spent plants standing, as many types of insects hibernate in the hollow stems or amongst the leaf litter.

If this is the case, do not mulch, either. Simply leave the plant material as it is. It will form its own makeshift mulch and you can remove it in the spring and mulch it then.

Cleaning out Annual Beds

Annual beds are everblooming, ever cheerful. Luckily, Virginia’s winters are often mild enough that some annuals even survive the winter. Autumn chrysanthemums can last into January, and it doesn’t seem like anything can kill the hardy pansy!

However, annual beds do need some care. Since the constant rotation of blooms wears out the soil, be sure to compost generously, or even add a slow-release fertilizer if you like. Cleaning up any debris and adding a nice layer of mulch will help your little flowers shake off the cold and snow.

These autumn chores will keep you busy during the gorgeous fall weekends, but that’s just what a gardener loves, isn’t it? A good excuse to be out in the garden.