The arrival of fall brings the end of warm weather crops in the vegetable garden and some yearly chores to accomplish. The list below gives some guidelines and reminders of items happen before the snow falls!
1. Soil Test – Fall is the best time to soil test. Labs are slower, receive results faster. Amendments applied now have all fall and winter to work. Lime takes 6 to 9 months to fully react, causing a change in pH. UConn Soil Test Lab, www.soiltest.uconn.edu $8.00 fee provides levels pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, micronutrients, organic matter level and soil texture plus recommendations for plants growing in that soil.
2. Clean up – Remove all brown plant material; leaves, stems, fallen fruit. Exceptions are seed heads that provide wildlife seeds as food. Removing last year’s top growth removes disease and insect hiding places. Many insects overwinter on plants where they fed. Bury diseased plants in compost pile or discard in the garbage.
3. Cultivate Soil – Turn over the soil or scratch soil up with a hand fork or hoe to expose pest insects to birds and cold weather. Try to disrupt the top inch or so of soil to wreck overwintering insect’s cozy homes.
4. Use a Mulch – After Thanksgiving, pile chopped leaves or other natural mulch around plants. By now the ground is frozen and rodents have found other winter homes. If mulch is put on earlier, chipmunks and mice think you put it there for them! Placing mulch on frozen ground insults the soil keeping it from freeze and thaw cycles. The goal is stop the plants from heaving out of the ground not to keep the plants warm.
5. Sow cover crops in empty vegetable and annual beds to prevent soil erosion. Cut back and till in the soil in early spring. Winter wheat, oats and rye are good choices.
6. Clean Tools – Oil wood handles, clean and oil metal parts with vegetable oil. Drain hoses and nozzles, freezing temperatures will crack them. Service mowers and blowers. Store all for winter.
7. Grow Garlic! – Hard necked garlic can be planted in October, mulched with straw, harvested next June. Plant single cloves one inch deep and three apart.
8. Cut back iris and discard leaves even if green to eliminate iris borer eggs laid during the fall. September is also the month to divide peonies if needed.
Enjoy the slower time of autumn in the garden now that the work is done.