Gardens follow the seasons. In the winter your garden hibernates, storing up energy. Spring is a time for new seedlings, leaves, and flowers. With summer comes growth, fruit, and vegetables. And in the fall, your garden uses its last bit of energy to finish growing and then go to seed.
Fall is a time of transition for many plants, as they go to seed or loose their leaves. The garden is slowing down and pulling inward for a winter’s rest. It’s time to save seeds, really clean things out, and add compost, mulch, and other organic material to the soil. Adding these nutrients now gives them time to work into the soil via rain and earthworms.
Seed Saving, Deadheading, Composting & Mulching
Plants go dormant in the fall to protect themselves from frost, cold, and snow. They send all their life force into the roots, preparing for a long winter’s nap. You need to prepare your garden for winter during these fall months. Annual plants go to seed in the fall. They are triggered by changes in the weather and soil temperature. This is their last chance to propagate before being killed by the frost.
Fall is a great time to collect seeds from this year’s garden and save them for next year’s garden. Some perennials also go to seed in the fall, and those that do not, die back. The process of cutting back plants in the fall is called ‘deadheading’. To deadhead, you simply remove the head of the spent seed and flower stalks. Then you can cut back the seed stalks to the ground or to the vegetation in the case of many perennials. Put all the plant scraps in your compost pile. For more information on composting, check out our discussion with a Master Composter from Seattle.
Here is another gardening tip… soil activity slows down because of decreasing soil temperatures. If you live in a temperate climate like the Pacific Northwest, most of California, the Southeast, or Texas, the soil will never go completely dormant; plants will continue to grow all winter. If you live where the temperature stays below freezing all winter, the soil will be completely dormant and nothing will grow. The best thing to do for your plants and soil no matter where you live is to add mulch to the garden beds. Mulch insulates the soil, adds nutrients, and helps control weeds.
If you live in temperate climate, the fall is an ideal time to plant. The cooler temperatures and frequent rain make for wonderful planting conditions, especially in a hot climate like Southern California or Florida. In the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, the fall is a great time to plant herbs, veggies, trees, and shrubs. Peas, broccoli, lettuce, and kale are just a few of the vegetables you can plant in the fall. Learn about unusual and heirloom varieties in our Fall Veggie Garden article.