Fall tips: Preparing your garden for next year

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garden tools and fall leaves

By Dixie Sandborn | Michigan State University Extension

It is hard to believe it is time to start putting our gardens, lawns and flowers to rest for the winter. Michigan State University Extension offers these tips to make next year’s spring and summer vegetable and herb gardening easier and more fruitful.

As you pick and preserve your garden’s current crops, take time to prepare your soil for next year’s growing season. Remove all non-bearing, dead and diseased plants as you harvest your current crops.

After frost has blackened the leaves on the remaining plants, pull them up and compost them. If they are diseased, take care not to add them to your compost pile, as many pests are able to overwinter and come back with a vengeance next spring.

Chores for your vegetables

Remove all weeds and debris. This reduces homesteads for overwintering insects and diseases. Till the soil. Fall is a great time to oxygenate the soil. Tilling should be done once in both directions — a rough till is fine in the fall. Tilling in the fall reduces the need for tilling wet, spring soil.

Tilling wet soil is never recommended. Soil can be too sticky in early spring.

Add organic matter. Adding organic matter, humus and manure in the fall allows time for it to become married to the soil. Organic matter is not immediately available for plants, so giving it time will have your plants functioning at peak performance earlier next spring.

Microorganisms are not as active in early spring; feeding them in the fall gives your garden a head start in the spring. You may also choose to till in the organic matter.

A cover crop can be planted as an option to help improve your soil. Winter wheat and cereal rye are good options for a Michigan garden cover crop.

If you have a very unruly area that has just gone to the weedy side, cover it with black plastic or cardboard and leave it until it’s time to plant in the spring to kill all sprouting seeds.

Perennial herbs

Keeping your herbs healthy during the growing season with well-drained soil, regular watering, fertilization and pruning is key to their winter survival. Most herbs will also benefit from a good two to four inches of mulch cover.

Do not mulch heavily until after the first heavy frost; doing so before can actually weaken plants. Winter mulches help maintain soil temperatures and reduce frequent freezing and thawing.

It is a good time to cut dead wood from sage, oregano and thyme. Trim off dead flower heads.

Windbreaks or a covering of evergreen branches may also aid in the survival of many herbs, protecting them from harsh winds that tend to dry out less cold-tolerant herbs.

(Dixie Sandborn is a Michigan State University Extension specialist. She can be reached by email at dixie@msu.edu.)

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