Fall is a great time to be in the garden.
There are plenty of things to do, especially if you got behind this summer. Catching up on some of those maintenance jobs can give you a head start next spring.
Now is a good time to evaluate your gardens with the season coming to an end. It’s also an appropriate time to plan and start new beds so you are ready to plant in the spring.
Putting in a brand-new garden requires some planning.
First, call Dig Safely New York to ensure all underground utility lines are properly marked before you begin digging. This is a free service and should be done at least two full working days, but no more than 10 working days, before beginning your project.
Next determine if the site is suitable for what you want to grow.
Vegetables require full sun for at least six hours every day, eight to 10 would be even better.
Well drained soil is critical to growing vegetables. It is also key to successfully overwintering many perennials.
A raised bed may be a good alternative if drainage issues or heavy clay soils are a problem.
Outline the boundaries of the garden. You can use spray paint, string or even a garden hose.
If the future bed is currently lawn, try sheet composting or “lasagna gardening.”
First mow the grass low. This is the one time scalping your lawn is OK.
Eliminate any perennial weeds either by hand or spot treat with an herbicide. Cover the ground with several layers of wet newspaper or pieces of cardboard.
Top that with several inches of compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings or well-rotted animal manure.
Future flower beds can be topped with mulch. By spring the sod will have decomposed — It can take four to eight weeks for sod to die if you decide to try this method in the spring.
When spring arrives, you can plant seeds, seedlings, or plants directly into the organic matter. The less you disturb the soil, the fewer weed seeds will be brought to the soil surface where they will germinate and grow.
If you have never tested your soil pH autumn is a good time to take a sample.
Soil pH tells us if the soil is acidic or alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral.
Most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. You can add lime to raise the pH if it is too low or if your pH is too alkaline you can add elemental sulfur to lower it.
Adding amendments in the fall gives them time to work before spring planting.
Most local Cooperative Extension offices can do soil pH testing. If you need information about nutrient levels, organic matter, etc. your local CCE office can help you locate a laboratory that performs soil testing.
Plants need food, water, and oxygen to grow. While plants can produce their own food via photosynthesis, pretty much everything else they need comes from the soil they are planted in.
Whether you are growing trees, perennials, bedding plants, vegetables, or herbs, every growing season they are taking nutrients from the soil. Those nutrients need to be replaced to insure plant health and next year’s harvest.
One way to do that is to add compost to the soil.
Adding composted organic matter to your soil can be done spring or fall.
Compost is a term for organic matter that has decomposed into a form that plants can use. Compost has many benefits, including keeping organic materials out of landfills.
Compost improves your soil and helps keep plants healthy.
Organic matter improves the soil water holding capacity which helps roots absorb water. Compost provides humus, organic material that has completely decomposed, which helps soils provide nutrients to plants.
It also improves the soil structure by binding soil particles together.
Compost can improve water retention in sandy soils and improve drainage in clay soils. When adding compost to vegetable gardens mix 1 to 2 inches of compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of topsoil.
Organic matter is the key to improving any type of soil. If you are creating a new garden, it is relatively easy to incorporate compost as you prepare the area. I
f you have existing flower beds you can still add organic matter.
During fall clean-up, top dress beds by adding a couple inches of compost around and between existing plants.
Do not bury the plant crowns. If possible, dig it in a little, but don’t damage existing roots.
As you take out annuals or dead perennials, add compost to that area.
I like to add some compost as I plant new plants in the garden. The compost will break down over the winter and be available to the plants come spring.
If the weeds got away from you this summer, get them out of your garden before they drop their seeds.
As you start to clean up your vegetable garden remember that bare soil is an invitation to more weeds. Cover it up for the winter.
Use mulch, such as layers of wet newspaper covered with shredded leaves, grass clippings — no herbicides — straw, compost, or rotted animal manure. Or plant a cover crop such as winter wheat, winter rye and annual ryegrass.
Cover crops are planted about six weeks before the first expected frost date. Either of these practices will help control weeds and erosion while adding valuable organic matter to the soil.
The success of any garden starts with the soil. Adding organic matter every year is the best way to improve your soil and give it an annual tune-up.
Have a gardening question? Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office 10 a.m. to noon Mondays through Fridays.
You can stop in at our Cornell Cooperative Extension office on 420 East Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to everyone who came out to our Fall Garden last Saturday. A special thank you to the following individuals and businesses who donated plants, books, or auction items: Batavia Home Depot, Darlene Almeter, Karen Grinnell, Jackie Shepard, Annette Zuber, and several anonymous donors.
On the first Tuesday of the month, join the Genesee County Master Gardeners for our lunch time Garden Talks from noon to 12:45 p.m. On Oct. 7, the program will be “Winter Bird Feeding 101.”
This free program will be held on Zoom. Please register at our CCE website events page at http://genesee.cce.cornell.edu/ to get your personal link. Programs are recorded and posted to the CCE Genesee YouTube page.